A report has been making the rounds lately which shows the “shocking” decline of e-reader sales and has been quickly interpreted as the “Death of E-reading” and the “Conquest of Tablets”. Instead of debating on numbers and statistics, let me add some anecdotal evidence from my own life.

Pure Unmitigated Bliss of Reading

Despite being very skeptical in the beginning, when I got my first ereader I was reading on it day and night. I read more, faster and more conveniently than ever before. To someone who has been reading long texts on glowing screens for more than a decade, the non-illuminating paper-like nature of the e-ink screen was a welcome change.

After a while I even started listening to podcasts on it, checking my emails, receiving feed subscriptions and reading my customized morning newspaper on a daily basis. Although I admit that using the “experimental” browser feature was a nightmare, the reading itself was pure unmitigated bliss.

The New Kid in Town

All that was to change abruptly when the first tablet computer entered my home. Here was a device that could do almost everything my laptop could do, only more conveniently, faster and more enjoyably. I started reading my custom newspaper at the flick of a finger, answered emails at lightning speed, streamed full length movies, downloaded music, played games, edited photos, created sketches, songs and blogposts, etc.

As the weeks went by downloading and trying out new apps, I began to miss something. I wasn’t sure exactly what, but the tablet experience was so … exciting, and as I went from working on my laptop to afternoon resting time with the tablet, sometimes I felt stressed out all by this information and interaction which was literally at my fingertips.

And then it suddenly hit me that it had been many days that I picked up and read a good novel. Mobile gaming, social media and video streaming are all great but there’s nothing like delving into a good book and losing oneself in a story or compellingly crafted exposé.

Confused? Don’t worry, it means we’re still moving…

If this personal account proves anything (apart from my own wayward media consumption habits) then it’s that e-readers and tablets are completely different devices for completely different purposes (nowadays, I tend to work on my laptop, use the tablet for email and social media during the day and unwind in the evening reading on my e-reader) they aren’t necessarily in competition with each other.

There’s still a huge confusion out there about what a digital book is supposed to be: is it like a website? Is it an app with integrated video and audio? Is it like an interactive adventure game? Or is it simply about displaying words in the most convenient and flexible way?

The confusion is only natural, though and points to the fact that we’re in the middle of a great shift regarding the role of producing and processing the written word.

Once the dust has settled we’ll see which devices are fads and which are here to stay. Remember laserdisc players, the Sony Walkman and discman? These are all devices which have disappeared because of more convenient means of consuming the same content.

Whether the e-reader is a fad no hastily interpreted sales numbers can prove, only time will tell…