MICHAEL SMITH (EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL DIGITAL PUBLISHING FORUM): It's true, they're really taking off. It's because they're getting so much easier to use.
Why not just read a book the old-fashioned way? What's the advantage of an e-book reader?
Portability, the ability to save space, and even privacy. It's about the size and weight of a slim hardback--but some can hold more than 200 books. All the books are digital, so you don't have to worry about crowding your bookshelves. And if your guilty pleasure is, let's say, Louis L'Amour western novels--and that's my guilty pleasure, I've read dozens--no one, not even your significant other, will know how many you're downloading or what you're reading.
And the disadvantages?
You can break or lose them.
Are they really that easy to use?
Yes, just plug them into your computer with a USB cable, like you would your digital camera, and download an entire book in about a minute. The cost is typically under ten dollars a book.
Any kind of book?
Thousands and thousands in every category you can imagine. Including audio books.
What about reading on a screen? Isn't that strange?
It takes a little getting used to. But once you get immersed in the story, your awareness of the technology just flows away.
There are so many readers on the market now! Where to begin?
The most popular are the Sony Reader .], iLiad , Cybook , and Kindle . They cost between $300 and $600, and mostly look similar--white, gray, or black with a 5- or 6-inch screen. The screen is crisp and the type is black and white, so it resembles an actual printed page. There's no glare, and if you want bigger type, you can change the font size. You can also flip through and bookmark pages. You can even read in direct sunlight.
Any big differences?
Kindle doesn't require a laptop or extra software. It'll download books without a cable wherever you are. You can also get newspapers automatically delivered to your Kindle every morning. It's made by Amazon, so you can only download material from --but luckily their inventory is huge. I don't know the iLiad as well, but it has great features. You can write on it--it allows you to make notes and underline text--and you can even sketch or draw. One really big advantage of the Cybook is that you can purchase a no-hassle replacement plan in case of accidental damage.
Which one do you use?
A Sony Reader. It feels very comfortable in my hands. The controls are right where my hands naturally rest when I am reading a book. And it weighs about 9 ounces, which is an average weight.
Are there any kinds of books that don't work with an e-book reader?
This technology isn't particularly friendly to anything illustration-heavy, like design books. The screens are relatively small, and they're black and white.
Once I have my reader home, where should I shop for books?
There are large selections at two sites: fictionwise. com and booksonboard. com. There are two other Web sites I would recommend to anyone exploring what to buy and how to use e-book readers--teleread. org and . They have news, reviews, and blogs about the various e-book readers on the market or new ones coming out. I check those sites daily. In my line of work, in such a fast-changing industry, I'm always running to keep up with what's new. *