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Old 07-03-2011, 12:57 PM  
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reading is a whole new experience

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For ebook devotees, reading is a whole new experience

LOUISVILLE, Ky. ? David J. Loehr, a playwright who lives in southern Indiana, was taking his car to the dealership when a story on the radio caught his attention. A short science piece about "an obscure subject" gave him an idea for a new play.

By Richard Drew, AP

The Kobo eReader Touch, an Amazon Kindle, an Aluratek Libre Air, and a Barnes & Noble Nook, left to right, are displayed.

Ordinarily, Loehr would have had to make do with jotting down some notes or trying to remember his inspiration. But since he had his iPad with him, he bought a few books on the subject and downloaded them as soon as he got to the dealership. He started his research for the play right there, while his car was being serviced.
"I can have all that research on a single tablet instead of carrying around 40 books," Loehr said.
Welcome to the future of books, where your entire library is as portable as a cellphone.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project reported that ownership of e-reader devices ? like the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader and Kobo eReader Touch ? doubled between November 2010 and May 2011. Now 12 percent of adults over age 18 own one, while 8 percent own a tablet computer like the iPad.
So what does the increasing popularity of these devices mean for the experience of reading? Do we read differently when we can get (almost) any book ever published, whenever we want?
Reading the future
For their devotees, ebooks have transformed the experience of reading.
Michelle Jones, who writes the Consuming Louisville blog, has a Kindle reader and also uses the Kindle app on her Android phone. "Even when I'm walking the dog, I'm always going to have my phone on me," she said. "I'm not always going to have my book bag. It makes it possible for me to read places I never would have before."
For Jones, the fact that her Kindle syncs with her phone -- so her book always knows where she left off -- makes reading the same book on different devices effortless.
Jones describes herself as an early adopter. But e-readers also have won over some book lovers who aren't ordinarily enticed by gadgetry, like Madelyn Anetrella, a nonprofit development manager for the American Lung Association.
"I don't know how to use my iPod," she said, by way of establishing her Luddite bona fides. But she does read on a Kindle and on the Kindle app on her phone.
"I'm always with a book of some sort, whether in hard copy on my Kindle or on the phone," she said. And although the gadgets haven't replaced her physical books, she does find that they come in handy. "Amazon has a lot of the classics for free, so I'll read a few pages when I'm in line."
Brian Leung, novelist and professor of English at the University of Louisville, said that having your entire library with you wherever you go was pretty extraordinary. "It's having all your books in your pocket, and having all your magazine subscriptions in your pocket."
Although Leung has a strong preference for physical books, he has started to think about buying ebook versions of things he's likely to only read once. He recently read Tina Fey's memoir, "Bossypants," and cited it as an example. "It's something that I wouldn't go back to," Leung said.
Like Leung, some readers who would never give up physical books have started to opt for ebook versions of one-time reads. James Bickers, the morning host for WFPK, is one. "It's largely a clutter thing," Bickers said. "I don't let a book into my house if I don't think I'm going to read it more than once."
Being able to purchase an ebook and start reading it right away without leaving the house ? or the doctor's waiting room ? also increases the convenience of the impulse buy.
Jen Woods, founder and president of the local small press Typecast Publishing, said she often buys books she's not sure about in the ebook version for her Nook. "For those books, I find that I purchase a lot more of them because I don't have to store them anywhere. If it is only a peripheral interest and I don't read the whole book, it's OK."
Just being able to carry around lots of books, however, doesn't mean you're going to read them. Bickers said that one of the things that attracted him to e-readers was the ability to download public-domain classics for free.
"It's all stuff that you were meaning to read anyway. Now I have these electronic versions of Dickens that I cannot read electronically," he said. "It makes me feel good to know I have Dickens even though I know I'm probably never going to get through it."
What's on your bookshelf?
But beyond the gadgets, how has technology improved the reading experience?
One of the best things about our digital lives is the ease with which we can share ideas with others. There are a number of websites and apps that allow readers to share recommendations with their social networks and to find new things to read.
Kiki Petrosino, a poet and assistant professor of English at the University of Louisville, wrote for the Poetry Foundation's Twitter feed last summer. She said the experience connected her to readers in a way that readings at bookstores or in universities didn't.
"I would post a simple question like, 'What are you reading today? What is the best live reading you ever attended?' " Petrosino said. "It was a great way to create a sense of community, in a rather intangible atmosphere."
Twitter and Facebook are the largest networks for creating online communities, but neither is specifically designed for readers. Other social networks are structured like giant, international reading groups.
Goodreads (goodreads.com) users can tell their friends about books they've read, or that they intend to read. It's been around for about five years.
Otis Chandler, the founder and CEO of Goodreads, said he was inspired by the way he could browse his friends' bookshelves and ask about what they were reading. "There was no way to do that online," he said.
Now Goodreads has 5.2 million members who have cataloged more than 160 million books.
But Chandler demurred when asked if Goodreads changed the way we read. "I don't think Goodreads is about changing the actual experience of reading," he said. "I think that what's changed is how people discover books and share books."
Short articles like blog posts dominate the free content available on the Internet, and it's easy to spend the whole morning grazing on bite-sized chunks of information. But there's a huge amount of long-form writing online, too -- the only trick is deciding what to commit your time to reading. A few new websites offer ways to pick up recommendations for these longer nonfiction articles.
Longreads (longreads.com) is designed to help people find journalism that's worth taking the time to read -- all suggested by other readers. You can browse or search its database of articles by subject, author or publication.
Anyone on Twitter can add a piece to Longreads by tweeting a link with the hashtag #longreads. Once you do that, Longreads automatically creates a user page with all the stories you've suggested. You can invite people to look at your recommendations, or browse the lists compiled by people you follow on Twitter.
Another new service for finding good, lengthy nonfiction is called Byliner (byliner.com). The site has amassed a database of more than 29,000 articles over the past year of development, although it just went online recently. As the name suggests, Byliner wants to focus attention on writers. It compiles lists of all the articles by a writer, regardless of where they were published.
John Tayman, the CEO of Byliner, gave the example of a reader who likes David Grann, the New Yorker writer and author of the best-seller "The Lost City of Z."
"There's no way to do really deep discovery around David's stuff," Tayman said. "You could do some of it at The New Yorker, but then you'd miss the stuff that he did for the Atlantic and The New York Times and everything else."
A search for David Grann on Byliner turns up articles not only from The New Yorker, the Atlantic and The New York Times, but also the New Republic and the Weekly Standard. Clicking on an article gives you the first few hundred words and then a link to the original source ? Byliner doesn't aggregate the full text of articles. That means the original publisher can also benefit from the new readers.
Once you've found your favorite writers at Byliner, the site's algorithms will try to suggest other journalists you might like ? something like movie recommendations on Netflix.
"The recommendations system that we're building (will) allow us to use that one David Grann article to become a deep David Grann fan to then be able to discover Nick Paumgarten, who has some similarities."
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