Do e-readers change the way we read?


New words enter English all the time. One major source of new words and senses is technological innovation. If a device is created that didn’t previously exist, it needs a name, and if the device is popular enough, that name, along with other words to describe the functions of the device, enters widespread usage. So how exactly does technological innovation change the way we talk and think? To put this question in context, let’s explore some new words and senses that have entered English thanks to the invention and ever-growing use of e-readers.

The term “e-reader” debuted as recently as the 1990s. When it first entered English, e-reader referred to a person who reads electronic versions of legacy-print materials. Shortly thereafter, e-reader also took on the sense of the handheld device used by people to read digital files. The term “e-book” predates “e-reader,” and has been used in English since the late 1980s.

Over the last decade, as e-readers such as the Kindle and the Nook have become less expensive and more accessible to the general public, the words to describe reading have started to expand to include digital reading. The term “book” now can refer to a downloadable file in addition to a traditional printed book. Bookmarks also continue to exist in the realm of e-readers. Bookmark as a verb has been around since the 1960s, mainly in the computing context, so its appropriation by e-readers is no surprise.

However, other words have less traction in the digital arena. Pages, for example, do not exist in e-books in the same way that they do in physical books. On e-readers, the size and orientation of text can be manipulated, making the concept of e-book page numbers less firm. While page numbers sometimes appear in certain electronic versions of books, oftentimes users of e-readers opt for viewing the percentage of the book read over page numbers. Goodreads, the popular social networking site where people can track and review books, even defaults to the “percentage read” of a book when the e-book option is chosen. The language used to describe moving through a book has also started to shift. With no physical pages to turn, people might move forward or backward in a book by “tapping” or “swiping” rather than “turning” a page. Similarly, the words “pinch” and “scroll” have attained new senses of their own because of their use to describe navigation on touchscreen devices.

The rise of e-readers has prompted speculation about the ways the mind processes words on a screen compared to words in paper books–the concern that holding a physical book promotes understanding in a way that staring at a screen does not.  A recent study by Sara Margolin suggests that e-readers do not hinder reading comprehension, at least in short passages of text. As research like this gains ground, the use of e-readers will only increase, and with it, new ways of conceiving of and talking about reading will surface in the language, and in turn, enter dictionaries.


  1. Larry -  May 10, 2015 - 4:15 pm

    Another plus I kept expecting to see among the comments was price of the ebook compared to a physical paper book, but no one thought of it: the electronic version of a book is vastly cheaper to buy versus a paperback or hardback book. I can get books at Amazon’s Kindle page for .99 cents and up and sometimes free. There are free ebooks to be had at barnsandnoble.com. My main reason I have turned to ebooks is that my shelves are full and I am loath to get rid of any of my “best of the best” in terms of enjoyment of a well written story, plus since I retired, my reading habits are far cheaper if I read ebooks.

  2. Paul Plato -  May 8, 2015 - 9:37 am

    I use a Gen 3 Kobo and try not to purchase novels in paper anymore. The Kobo H20 has an incredible e-ink screen, superior to using a tablet that gets washed out in bright light. It also has a backlight function and goes for a week or more without a charge.

    On the flip side, I still prefer paper for textbooks, there’s something about using a highlighter or making notes in the margin that e-books can’t seem to duplicate.

    So .. great for novels, cheaper than paper, takes up no shelf space. Not so good for textbooks.

  3. VinceP1974 -  July 25, 2013 - 7:34 am

    Before I actually used an e-reader I used to be one of these people who said “oh, I like how a book feels in my hands” (because that’s what everyone else seems to say too). But then I actually used a Kindle and any stupid notion about feeling or smelling paper went out the window. Thus I suspect all these people clinging to the strange notion that the feel of paper somehow makes reading content more “pleasurable” are just talking from their posterior.

    • Pauline Cahill -  May 8, 2015 - 12:47 pm

      I agree. I am a convert – now I can carry a lot of thick books in my handbag to read on the bus, in a cafe, at the doctors …..I’m a bookworm! Also the inbuilt dictionary is handy on odd occasions.

    • Astra -  May 9, 2015 - 12:20 pm

      We are in the same boat, or close to it.
      I was thinking the same until I got y first ebook reader Sony PRS-500 in January 2007.
      I didn’t read one printed book since then.

  4. Rae -  July 22, 2013 - 3:27 am

    I love the feel of the book in my hands. I love to go out and browse books in a store where I am surrounded by hundreds of books and the faint musty smell those book stores have. I have tried to read ebooks, but its not as much fun. Nothing can compare to the experience of holding the book in your hands, and turning the pages one by one. :)

    • Bea -  May 14, 2015 - 2:03 pm

      I completely agree. I have a Nook, but I still enjoy paper books better. Also, it sounds weird, but I like the smell of old books.

  5. Sky Flake -  July 17, 2013 - 5:45 pm

    I resisted getting an ereader for a long time, but curiosity finally got the best of me and I bought a Kindle keyboard. I quickly realized that I liked the convenience, but not the format. I bought a Kindle Fire & haven’t looked back. I still have paper books, especially for reference and patterns, but I am slowly seeing the benefit of reading them electronically, as well, since I’m able to read the larger formats comfortably on the Kindle app I put on my computer.

    I think the citation/page number difficulties could be remedied very simply by having a “standard” font and size (10 or 12) and basing the page numbers on that standard. The page number could remain in the same “place” (linked to a word, for example) even if a user made the font size larger (several swipes/taps to one page) or smaller (several pages to one screen).

    Also, two things I really like best about my Kindle Fire haven’t been mentioned yet. 1) I read before going to sleep and my spouse is often dreaming away while I do. I don’t need to use an ambient light and I’m able to read in white letters on a black ground, both of which allow him to snore on unhindered. 2) I started listening to books way back in the dark ages (1970s) and love them. I’m able to have an audiobook and an ebook on my Kindle so I may listen to and read the material simultaneously when I’m learning new things. I find I learn faster and retain more.

  6. Renee -  July 8, 2013 - 1:47 pm

    Don’t understand why everyone is complaining about them. It was just an article about the word e-reader, not a book club meeting to moan about them. I love my tablet and the ability to read from any of my devices. Does it suck when something is dead? Yeah. But I guess since I’m in college and appreciate what technology can offer, I get over the bad side of technology.

  7. bd model -  July 7, 2013 - 11:17 pm

    I just love book. the electronic media are reducing our time and make us lazy. But I love book and always I love book. thanks everybody

    • Some guy -  April 8, 2015 - 7:37 am

      Sitting around reading a piece of paper isn’t any better than sitting around looking at a screen. Both are equally likely to make you lazy and fat.
      So you can stay in the past, resisting change, reading book, while the rest of us progress forward (at least in terms of technology- certainly not in terms of morality or intelligence)

  8. Bangla news -  July 7, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    Prapak Shrestha, You are right. Actually, ebook can not give the pleasure as paper book. Although something is better than nothing….!

  9. Ian Wood -  July 7, 2013 - 9:38 am

    I don’t read books for a living (I just wish I did!) but I do read and review them on a modest blog about reading and writing: http://ianwoodnovellum.blogspot.com/ .

    I love books and prefer a hardback to a hard pad, but I have no problem with the e-version. It’s actually nice to have the choice, but I don’t see the point in commenting that “you should get an ebook” or that “you’re missing out if you abandon paper books” because in the end it is a choice that’s our own, and it ultimately comes down to what we’re used to, what we’re most comfortable with, what we need, and what we can afford.

    I agree with Leon Mire’s idea that it would be cool to have an ebook that emulated a paperback with turnable pages – then when you’re done with a book you could just download the next one on your reading list and read the same book over with different text! You could even slap it onto your shelf when you’re done for the day. A waterproof version of such a book would be readable in the bath, and unlike a paperback or an ebook, it wouldn’t be ruined if you dropped it into the water! But I can’t see anything like that being more than a novelty in this era of single item/multi-use technology.

    Ebooks have the advantage of portability and search-ability, but for me, you can’t beat the smell and texture, and heft of a brand new book in your hand! There is an issue however which no one seems to have raised yet, and that is which version – the paper book or the ebook – contributes most to depletion of resources and pollution of the environment? I don’t know. Does anyone?

    Even if you make paper books from recycled paper or from specially grown trees, it still costs energy to create them – but they are eminently recyclable. Does that amount to less than what it costs to make an ebook and then keep it in batteries/recharging of same? What, in practice (not in theory!) happens to all those old ebooks when people migrate to newer technology? How much does it alleviate the energy usage when paper books are donated to Goodwill or some such venue, and thereby recycled many times, whereas no one really does this with ebooks?

    There’s more to this issue than merely personal convenience and preference. There’s the health and welfare of a planet to consider.

  10. Gnirol -  July 6, 2013 - 10:41 pm

    I got a Kindle so that I didn’t need to lug books to the hospital for the recovery period after a recent operation. I thought I wouldn’t like it because I do not like reading books on my laptop. However, it turns out it is a matter of how the page looks to me, not how it feels. I can control how it looks and “turn a page” with one finger instead of several. I walked 25 km in the halls of the hospital the last four days building my strength with my iPod nano playing music into my ears and my Kindle in hand. I couldn’t do anything about having to be in the hospital, and there were precious few other patients leaving their rooms at all, so those two devices really helped me. Considering that my bookshelves are full and I have no more floor space for more, once I finish the backlog of books on paper (also often a nuisance to carry on a train, especially the hardcovers), I won’t be buying many more unless they are not available electronically. But hey, this is a matter of preference. My preference isn’t better than anyone else’s.

  11. Myst Runner -  July 6, 2013 - 9:07 pm

    I love reading books. But I happen to not live in a town that has never had a proper book store. All we had was a library. The only bookstore that was within a decent driving distance sadly was one of the unfortunate stores hit by border’s bankruptcy. Since then the only book store we have is a used book store that you have to pay full price for a used book at. Sorry won’t do. I’ve actually been forced to migrate to a kindle just to be able to read new books. Yes there are a few series I buy the actual dead tree formats for but I think I have read maybe three actual books in the past year. For me it’s not a choice of liking one format over another. Instead it’s what format can I reliably get what I want to read on the easiest. That has been a Kindle reader and I don’t think I will ever not own an e-reader after having this one.

  12. luvmonkey -  July 6, 2013 - 2:12 pm

    I love books. Electronic, paper, it doesn’t matter. I can read my fanfiction on my tablet and I can listen to audio books on my iPod and I can read e-books on my computer and stretch out on the couch with a paperback. I’m an equal-opportunity bibliophile.

  13. xtheoldman -  July 6, 2013 - 11:03 am

    First, let me say that I am 69 years old and have been an avid reader all my life. I also like to think I’m a fair hand at writing. And, oh yes, I’m something of a gadget freak, too, at least as much as I can afford to be in these my golden years. It’s because of this last characteristic that my interest was piqued sometime ago by the concept of the e-book.

    I, too, was a lover of aisle-browsing in a well-stocked bookstore and was rarely happier than when I returned home with a bag full of new books. So much pleasure and education stretched out before me. Then, more from curiosity than anything else, I invested in Amazon’s first Kindle (though I did wait for the original price to drop) and so began my exploration of the e-book. To cut to the chase, I loved it. First, I found there was nothing I could do with a paper book that I could not do with my e-book version (except perhaps drop food between the pages), even more so now that I have moved up to a more advanced model. When reading non-fiction especially, I’m big on annotation and underlining, though finding a particular passage later could be a problem with a standard paper book. But with my e-book reader I can very neatly highlight passages and add lengthy notes, all of which are electronically stored for easy access later. If I seek a passage that I did not mark in any way, I can use key words and a search engine. A dictionary is immediately available at a tap of the screen. I can also request to see what other readers of the same book have chosen to highlight. Now that really blows my mind.

    And then there’s storage space, an issue that should be appreciated by anyone who has ever hauled boxes of books from point A to point B again and again. I think of all the books I donated to the local library, or took to a used book store, because I had to make space at home, while those special books I just had to keep collect dust and turn yellow with age, so that when I do take one from the shelf again, I feel as if I have neglected an old friend. Better to be stored electronically, where it doesn’t age.

  14. Barb -  July 6, 2013 - 9:35 am

    I get satisfaction from the words, not the medium or format they are presented in. Ereaders are perfect for people who no longer can schlepp boxes of books home from the library or whose eyesight is no longer sufficient for regular print sizes. As to longevity, a book can be burned, an ereader deleted, what’s the difference. One might argue that a backup copy of a digital book residing on a server somewhere is more feasible than making a copy of a hardcover book or buying seconds but the whole ereader vs. print book controversy is silly, I could not imagine my life without reading and without books, regardless of the format, I just opted for fewer “trees” on my shelves and the ease of obtaining new books and that’s a personal choice. I suspect future generations will not miss print books at all since the notion that a tablet or ereader or PC is something that you “do” (you turn your gadget on, wait for it to boot, and then you use it) will be replaced by something that you “are.” What I mean is that the idea of hitching our horses to a buggy and then taking a nice long trip into town sounds romantic and gives you a completely different sensory experience but I would not ever consider doing that because cars are part of my life now and I do not have the time to hitch up the horses, at least not for my weekly grocery run and such.

  15. Leon Mire -  July 6, 2013 - 9:11 am

    I would totally get behind e-books if, instead of a flat screen, they had “pages” on which the content was displayed, like the newspapers in Minority Report. That would give you the feeling of holding a physical book while retaining all the advantages of an e-reader.

  16. Diane -  July 6, 2013 - 7:28 am

    There is a flickering on e-readers that is not readily detectable by the human eye, but can cause migraine headaches and seizures in people with certain medical conditions. Why this is not mentioned more often, I do not know.

  17. Steve -  July 6, 2013 - 7:06 am

    @Maggie a hard copy can be destroyed just as easily (if not more easily) than a digital one.

  18. Amelia -  July 5, 2013 - 2:45 pm

    I love my kindle, but i find myself using it as a tablet, not an e-reader. I prefer books because there’s nothing that can distract you like apps and games.

  19. tuesday63 -  July 4, 2013 - 7:44 pm

    I love paper books, in fact they’re a passion for me with lots of bookshelves overflowing with books, and yes, I’ve read them all, many times. A couple of years ago I was given a touch-screen kindle as a gift and find it to be very useful at times, like when I go on holiday/camping – now I can take all my books in one small neat package, rather than running out of clothes because my books took up all the space in my suitcase! Then there are the times when the arthritis in my wrists and hands have flared up and I just literally can’t hold a book – now I can still read by propping the kindle on a cushion and lightly tap the screen to turn the “page” and of course I love being able to make the font larger, as my eyes are definitely not what they used to be. At the moment I am reading my all-time favourite series, though I’ve begun it on my kindle because the paper editions have been read that many times they’ve fallen apart into many, many single pages. I’m slowly replacing them, but for now, the kindle is helping.

    So for me, the e-reader has a place in my life. It will never replace paper books, but there are certainly times I find it extremely handy to have.

  20. Personal Branding -  July 4, 2013 - 7:40 am

    although e-books can be downloaded cheap and easy ,it doesn’t give pleasure of reading as in paper book.handling the e-book reader in hand and staring continuously makes me really dizzy.

  21. David -  July 4, 2013 - 7:29 am


    With all due respect, your claims about the origin of the term “e-reader” are incomplete.

    “E-paper” was coined by a company called E Ink. They pioneered bistable electrophoretic displays (the technology was invented by Xerox), the first electronic paper, in the early 1990′s. In fact, their technical literature used an “e” and an upside down “e” to help us engineers visualize how the technology works, since the pigmented balls can be thought of as rotating into place, like an “e” might rotate about its axis. Since Intel had already been marketing the possibilities of an electronic book with the release of their 8051 microcontroller series (there is a drawing of an electronic book on the front of the 1990′s release of the 8051 data manual), it was only natural that E Ink began calling devices utilizing their technology an “e-reader.”

    I know. I was there. My group of engineers considered using E Ink’s product way back in the mid 1990′s. Your average Joe had no idea the technology even existed.

    For whatever all this is worth.

    Best regards,

  22. Omkar -  July 4, 2013 - 7:11 am

    I deeply feel, keeping in mind the environmental concerns and the booming populace, the extensive focus on knowledge dispersal via traditional paper media is only going to put more strain on the already endangered environment. I personally do not have any preference, but as and when I get my first tablet/reader I would definitely advocate digital medium for reading. Also it would be great to see newer tablets incorporating the features of those e-ink readers, which anyways serve just one purpose. This would in turn attract more of those avid readers to tablets and render the already single purpose e-ink readers obsolete.

  23. KirbyStarWarrior -  July 3, 2013 - 5:41 pm

    IMHO, it really doesn’t matter whether I get a book on an e-reader or a paper version. You’re still reading the words, and for people like Kat, you can just get one without a touchscreen. If you feel that there is “less satisfaction” in getting an e-reader (or a paper version) or that there’s some kind of “honor” you get after reading a paper version that you don’t get in an e-reader, or vice versa, you are just WAY too picky when it comes to reading books.

  24. maggie -  July 3, 2013 - 2:47 pm

    When “Fahrenheit 451″ happens e-readers will be wiped clean and you’ll wish you had bought the hardcopy. Just saying.

  25. Miranda L -  July 3, 2013 - 2:25 pm

    Ereading has definitely won an irrevocable place in our culture and in our language.

    I have found that the people who are lifetime avid readers are quicker to defend the paper book, which is why I have fallen into a few debates arguing the validity of electronic books.

    I firmly love both ereaders and paper books, but I find that I personally read a lot more with an ereader since I am no longer intimidated by length or fine print, nor am I scared to read in public now that I have the comfort of being anonymous about interests I don’t want associated with me.

    But, @valham6, why not own a reader? A Kobo is as little as $39. Owning one is no moral abandonment of a paper book. They’re different forms, but no matter if it’s dark crystals rising of a screen through magnetic charge or ink printed on paper, words are the most important.

  26. Ray -  July 3, 2013 - 12:31 pm

    But is it spelt, “e-reader” or “ereader”–is the next question.

    cf “e-mail” vs. “email”…

  27. Jeff Corbett -  July 3, 2013 - 10:45 am

    Since page numbers change according to the size of the text and the orientation of the screen, as well as they can be replaced by “percentage read” I wonder how citations in research papers will look in the future?

    (Brown 45 [when the text is at 125% and the view is landscape])?


    (Brown 53% of the book read)

  28. velham6 -  July 3, 2013 - 10:33 am

    not a fan of the e-reader; despise them, really. i prefer the feel of a real book in my hands. besides, choosing a new bookmark is half the fun! i’m currently upset that a book i want to read is ONLY available electronically. strugging with borrowing an e-reader (i’ll never buy one) or just not reading it.

  29. MRCAB -  July 3, 2013 - 6:49 am

    @Kat Slatery —Get one without a touchscreen. That’s what I have.

  30. Prapak Shrestha -  July 3, 2013 - 3:59 am

    although e-books can be downloaded cheap and easy ,it doesn’t give pleasure of reading as in paper book.handling the e-book reader in hand and staring continuously makes me really dizzy.

  31. Melodie Coleman -  July 1, 2013 - 9:59 pm

    I find that even though I have a Nook I tend to migrate more towards the paper versions of literature and other reading materials. When using the nook I find I am more easily distracted by outside noises and events than when I have a physical book or paper in hand..Thought provoking article!

  32. Jim Wehold -  June 30, 2013 - 10:18 pm

    I don’t like the touch screen either. If I forget to lock the screen I find myself, excuse the word, butt dialing a friend, the other day I butt dialed unto the internet browser, boy did that eatup the time… I am always getting calls from friends asking… what did you want? you called me yesterday, but no one was talking??? I have even unlock the screen with by butt… It’s not my butts fault so I can’t blame my butt.

  33. Hebeestie Wallopman -  June 30, 2013 - 7:57 pm

    There is a definite sense of completion when I finish a book, and because of that, it has earned a place in my bookshelves.

    e-Books do not give that satisfaction and don’t attain that honour.

  34. Kat Slatery -  June 29, 2013 - 3:56 pm

    I speed read and I use my fingers to track my place and I am touching the page. I can’t do this with an e-reader because of the touch screen.


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