Why Baby Boomers Buy and Enjoy eReaders

Not too long ago, while traveling on the cross-town bus to a midday appointment, I took out my iPad to do a bit of reading. After several minutes I looked up to check how far we’d gone. But what caught my attention were the seven or eight people around me immersed in their e-readers. OK, maybe not so strange considering the popularity of these devices. However, these people were all over 50!

An ereader is so light-weight you can hold it in one hand.

There in front of my eyes was proof of Affinity’s American Magazine Study that revealed Baby Boomers are the primary users of ereaders. In fact, Boomers are 19 percent more likely to own a Kindle or Nook than members of any other adult generational cohort. Of the 58.6 million Baby Boomers around, more than 18.2 million of them already have an ereader. At the time of the study (July 2011), another 10 percent said they planned to buy one within the next six months. The latest research by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project showed that ownership ebook ownership increased 8 to 15 percent among Americans age 50 to 64 between December of last year and January 2012.

Considering that Baby Boomers have been continually cartooned as tech-phobic, our ereader-love is a stand-up-and-take-notice kind of thing. But, without even thinking too hard, it’s easy to understand the full-swing affair between Boomers and the electronic book.

Adjustable Type-Size
To begin with, you can adjust the size of the print on an ereader. That “you” doesn’t include me because I read my iPad with my reading glasses on, the way I would a book. But now that I’ve written those words, I realize that I can’t believe it that when I use my iPad on a bus, I go through the bother of pulling out my glasses from my pocketbook to read and then stashing them away before my stop. Never again. I shall now use the handy little buttons that easily enlarge the print SO I CAN READ WITHOUT MY GLASSES.

That’s one thing that makes ereaders a terrific tool for our senior parents, too. They don’t need to buy large-print books. Any book, newspaper or magazine can become a large-print book with a simple press of the button.

Screenwriter Tracey Jackson Loves Her Kindle Fire.

Easy to Stow
Yeah, so I have the iPad, which makes me cool in some circles. Because it’s a “tablet” and not an “ebook” per se (I’ll explain this later), it’s also great for at-home mini-computing. But it’s just slightly too big for me to throw into my pocketbook without thinking twice. I mean, I do it, but my pocket book then becomes heavy on my shoulder and I worry I’m going to damage the strap. Ereaders sold by Barnes and Noble (the Nook series) and Amazon (the Kindle series) are, on the other hand, truly lightweight, at most 16 ounces. Simple, monochrome models weigh in at less than half a pound. A friend of mine, who already owns an iPad, bought a Kindle Fire (the newest Kindle model that has several features of a tablet) before a recent trip to Europe. She downloaded dozens of travel guides and maps so that all she had to do was make sure that her Fire was fully charged each morning before a day of sightseeing. No more schlepping heavy guidebooks for her. No more running back to the newsstand on the Boulevard St. Germain because she left her street map on the Metro. Everything she needed to know about the three countries and nine cities she and her family visited was on a device that went in and out of her pocketbook as if it were her wallet. (In fact, she claimed that it weighed less than her wallet because by the end of the trip she had so many coins.)

Easy to Load Up
I love my library, the St. Agnes Branch on 81st and Columbus Ave. I am a big believer in libraries, and I think it’s fantastic that some libraries are now lending books on ereaders. I also love bookstores, independents mostly but big chain ones too. Even the Barnes & Noble that kicked out the ballet school where I took class several times a week (this was a while back, when I was in my 20s) – I adore that store. My nose crinkles happily at the smell of fresh paper and ink. I get goose bumps when I take in all the shelves packed with books I can browse. I think it’s fantastic that this store sponsors readings by writers several times a week. But there are times when I don’t feel like going to the bookstore. It’s raining. Or snowing. Or I’m just feeling lazy. So I simply download a book. The iTunes store has my credit card information (encrypted and safe); I just need to type in my really clever password (YES YOU NEED GOOD PASSWORDS) and the book is mine. Instant gratification. Yes, I do feel bad that my ebook purchases are slowly eating away at the brick and mortar bookstore, and even though I put my legs where my mouth is when I advocate boomer fitness by running at least 15 miles a week – still, I’m a baby boomer, and some days I deserve a break from one less errand. Downloading is easy. And for all you boomers who need to drive to bookstores, ebooks save you gas! And time!

Other Ereader Tricks:
Here’s what you can do on most ereaders:

  • Look a word up in the dictionary.
  • Save your place
  • Take notes
  • Clip and save favorite quotations
  • Highlight passages you want to find again.

A few offer:

  • Text to speech.
  • Internet access.

Ebook readers have a small keyboard you can call up, the same way you do on a smart phone, or built in at the bottom of the reader. To highlight text, you just run your finger across it. Ebooks give you all this added stuff that’s easy to use.

So that’s why Baby Boomers love ereaders. Still, there’s a lot you need to understand before you buy one.

Ereaders Explained

Ereader: A device or computer program used for reading any kind of printed material on a screen.

Ebook: The electronic book that can be downloaded to the ereader.

Downloading: You go to an Internet site that sells (or gives away free books) on your computer, manipulate your mouse and click on “buy,” and the book goes onto your computer. Then you can sync with your ebook reader. Or – and this is what happens mostly – you download the book directly from the seller to your ereader.

Tablet or Reader: A tablet is larger than a regular ereader and gives you more options. You can use and iPad for email, Twitter and Facebook, as well as a whole lot of apps (applications). An ereader generally has a single function – storing books.

Apps: Think of an app as kind of like a computer program, except it doesn’t integrate itself with the computer system software. For instance, I can write on my computer because I have Microsoft Word installed. I do not need access to the Internet to use the program. However, on my iPad (and iPhone) I downloaded an app that enables me to identify what stars are in the sky no matter where I am. This app depends on GPS – global positioning system – which means that the signal that comes from my location has to be sent out and picked up by a satellite or cell tower.

Tablet or Reader, redux: Apps are cool. But if all you want is a book in your hands, then you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a tablet. (By the way, both ereaders and tablets let you read a book you’ve downloaded as long as your battery lasts.)

Battery length: The battery in the Nook Simple Ink reader supposedly lasts for 75 hours; the one in the Sony Reader Daily Edition supposedly lasts for 12,000 hours. That really must be a misprint, but I keep seeing it everywhere. So whatever reader you get, make sure you have it charged so you can read your books and magazines.

Space: The more memory an ereader has, the more books you’ll be able to store. Forever. Or until the device wears out. But you should be backing your ereader up to your computer anyway, or to a “cloud.” On any of the devices, you’ll be able to store hundreds of books.

Cloud: The great big Internet in the sky. These days, some people keep all their programs and data in a “cloud.” An example: You can get to your Google Docs, which is the Google version of Microsoft Office, from any computer, anywhere, anytime – as long as there is Internet access. But there’s the rub. Internet access. Most often you don’t need Internet access to read what you’ve downloaded. The cloud is there, but even if you can’t get to it, you still have your content.

Note the "keyboard" buttons on the bottom of this ebook reader.

Content: Ah, here’s another biggie. There are currently three main ebook stores available to US customers: Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook) and iPad (iTunes). New books published by traditional printers (even small publishing houses) will generally be available on all three. HOWEVER, a book bought on Amazon will not be compatible with a Nook reader. In other words, there’s no single standard for the ebook. It’s not like renting a DVD from Netflix and knowing it will play on your Sony or Panasonic or no-name DVD or Blueray player. There are apps that simulate the Nook or Kindle readers that you can download for other readers or tablets, but it gets to be a tremendous bother. And if Kindle doesn’t like it that you have a particular book – they can make it disappear from your reader. (This actually happened in 2009 when overnight George Orwell’s Animal Farm mysteriously disappeared from people’s Kindle libraries. Kindle did not have the proper rights and just deleted the book.)

Cost of Books: All the big ebook stores charge about $12.99 for a new book. Some books, however, are free. Project Gutenberg aims to make everything out of copyright available online at not cost. So if you want a bible – it’s free. Shakespeare’s plays, too. But, note, sometimes Gutenberg books lack pagination or the zip and zing of a newer edition (for which you have to pay). Also, lots of people are publishing on their on their own now, often through the Kindle store, and some of these books are free, or $2.49 because the author is running a sale. People who love certain genres – romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, steam punk – can get a good bang for their buck, or even better, a free download of a book by an unknown writer, and there’s a good chance the book will be fun. (I am personally suspicious of free self-published cookbooks. I want to know there’s been a test kitchen. I also would not set out to fix the electrical wiring in my house based on instructions in a self-published book. Just sayin’.)

Buying an Ebook Reader: So, this is a major decision, and it may be a good idea to pay a visit to an electronics or big box store that carries a number of ebook reader brands. If you really like the idea of having access to apps and want something that qualifies as a tablet and don’t mind having only Wifi access (instead of the 3G that’s available with the iPad or Sony Reader Daily Edition), then you might love the Kindle Fire, which at $199 is about $400 to $500 dollars cheaper than an iPad. If you want something really basic – after all, regular books are in black and white – The Nook Simple Touch Reader costs $99. If you’re a magazine reader, though, keep in mind that magazines use color, so you might be happier with an ereader that will reproduce the great pictures of O or Esquire. There are brands I haven’t even mentioned, like the Kobo, which Wired Magazine liked a lot but doesn’t to have a dedicated store. Read the reviews, like this one from PC World: Nook vs Kindle Fire. Then physically handle the various models. Insist the sales staff turn each one on so that you know what books, magazines or anything else will look like on the screen. Sit with it. See how it feels in your hands.

In the end, though, all my baby boomer friends are fine with whatever they have. Very few have “upgraded.” You see, the book is the thing, and any ebook will put a world of reading in your grasp. Or purse. Or nightstand. Or briefcase. Or pocket.

Linda Bernstein, a strong voice for the Baby Boomer generation, blogs at www.generationbsquared.com. She has a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University and has written hundreds of articles for dozens of nationally known magazines and newspapers. She is currently teaching social media at Columbia University’s School of Journalism Continuing Education Program. An editor, writer and public speaker, Linda is currently working on a novel.

  • Ann | Creative Boomer

    Great article! It’s funny that the mass disappearance you mentioned was on an Orwell book. Kind of fitting with the theme of this book 1984!

    • Anonymous

       Yeah, it is so Orwellian.

  • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

    Wow, I had NO idea that we boomers were actually taking the lead on anything tech! Fascinating but it makes sense. My wife is mostly tech-phobic but she LOVES her Kindle and shares books with our son. Great tips, here. 

    This is a great web-site! Wish I’d thought of it…

    • http://generationbsquared.com Linda Bernstein

      Wow, Bruce. Now you know! And good luck with that tech stuff.

    • Anonymous

       Wow. Boomers are doing all kinds of amazing things, Bruce!

  • caryn payzant

    I tried an E-Reader last Spring and am still not totally sold on it.  I got a Kobo version.  It was an economical way to start out and give the E-Reader world a try.  Kobo is very user friendly and they have a huge catalog of books.  I found out that because they are a Canadian company, if you are in the US and use your credit card to buy your book, they charge an “international fee.”  It isn’t much; a small percentage of your total sale. I tend to download books that I want to keep and refer back to, not novels so much.  Do you know what I miss the most?  Turning pages. and seeing exactly how much I have read.  Also I like to visualize how much I have read or how much further I have to go. Seeing a percentage just doesn’t do it for me.    –www.TheMidLifeGuru.com

    • http://generationbsquared.com Linda Bernstein

      Thanks for your comments. You have pointed two major problems with the Kobo: pricing in the U.S. and the lack of exact paging. Some of the readers, such as the Kindle Fire, really feel like a book you can pick up to look for information — such as figuring out the species of bird on your deck. I love ebooks, but I know, for instance, that I would not bring my iPad into the kitchen when I cook. Just looking at the state of my cook books (water damage, sauce stains) makes it evident that a lot has to happen before the ereader can become an everything, all-the-time reader.

    • Anonymous

       Hi Caryn. That’s one reason I don’t love the Kobo. The iPad, Kindle and Nook all give you page numbers (except on some Gutenberg books, for some reason). I’ve been thinking, and I think that if I were going to buy a second one (which I’m not), I’d get a Fire. But if I were going to get another (which I’m not), I’d probably go back and forth many times.

  • http://twitter.com/BertaArt Clara Berta

    I have a friend who got one and he is in his seventies, loves it… 

    • Anonymous

      I just heard of a friend buying one for her mom who is over 80. She loves being able to enlarge the print and the brightness.

      • http://ItsDifferent4girls.com Linda Sherman

        My 83 year old father loves his iPhone and is about to buy an iPad. He likes his macbook OK and uses it to write poetry but he loves the touch screen on his iPhone so much that the iPad has gained compelling appeal. The initial conversion to the iPhone was sealed when I showed him the huge numbers on the telephone keypad screen. At first he said he didn’t need any apps, then ended up loving them.

        • Anonymous

           I think this new technology brings such promise to our parents and elders. I hope your dad continues writing poetry — and maybe within a year or two he’ll be able to tap it out on a macbook screen!

  • Atley Jonas

    One of the disadvantages to writing about technology is that quite often, the article (just like the technology) may already be outdated by the time it is printed…  That is no fault of the author.

    I liked this article — it was well researched and well done. I would however point out a couple of clarifying points. First of all, the cost of a new book varies depending on the company. I wouldn’t say the cost of a book is $12.99. It really depends on the publisher and agreement with the book seller. On Amazon, the great majority of titles retail for $9.99. http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/feb2010/tc2010022_235542.htm

    Secondly, it’s simply not accurate to say that the Kobo does not have a dedicated bookstore. It does. http://www.kobobooks.com/ In addition, the Kobo is partnered with Canadian chain Chapters Indigo Coles.

    Third, even though Bernstein mentions that an iPad is technically a tablet rather than an ereader, she goes on to talk about the Kindle Fire as though it were an ereader. While she points out that it really isn’t, the take-home message should be that the displays on ereaders are very, very different. It’s not just a matter of “colour vs. black & white.”  Kindle Fire has an LCD display, just like an iPad, and it runs a customized version of Android Gingerbread 2.3 OS. True ereaders like a regular Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, use “e-ink” which is a different technology than LCD displays.  The most important difference is that a device with an LCD will need recharging after about 8 hours of use whereas a true ereader will easily go for a whole month. In addition, LCD displays do not do well in bright sunlight, whereas e-ink displays will look just fine. And the reading experience on a true e-ink book is less tiring on the eyes because it’s not the same as staring at a computer monitor (which is what an LCD display on a tablet or iPad really is). E-ink is far more akin to reading a real book.

    On LinkedIn, there has been an interesting discussion regarding the Kobo actually… I noticed that Bernstein mentioned it briefly, as did a few commenters herein. If anyone is interested, I was asked to do a write-up about this Canadian company. You can find it on my website here: http://www.atleyjonas.com/blog/can-kobo-cope/  I’ve recently updated it to also include some of my own comments from LinkedIn that I issued as updates after I wrote the original article.

  • http://www.thegeezergadgetguy.com/ Thad Puckett

    An excellent article on eReaders.  I especially like how you differentiate between ereaders and tablets.  They are not the same animal.  

    One of my favorites is the Amazon Digital Daily Deal. They usually have at least one book for .99, though some are $1.99.  And of course there are a great number of free books as well.

    Just discovered your blog tonight, but I plan on being around here a bunch!

    • http://ItsDifferent4girls.com Linda Sherman

      Thank you so much Thad @GeezerGadgetGuy Thank you for the info on the Amazon Daily Deal. cc @WordWhacker  Welcome to this space of writing for the 50+ crowd. It’s probably on your to do list but I do recommend adding a Twitter link to your new blog. 

    • http://generationbsquared.com/ Linda Bernstein

       You’re right. Ebooks and Tablets differ in several ways. Tablets tend to be larger and have a different kind of display. The LCD display makes it more difficult to read in sunlight. A true ereader has e-ink display which supposedly approximates the feel of a book page. Personally, I don’t find they are any sharper or easy to read, though many people do. The best thing about the true ereaders is that they are smaller and easy to carry around and have great dedicated bookstores. Amazon/Kindle is fantastic because so many people are self-publishing on that platform and do freebies to introduce themselves, so you can get lots of books at no cost. Amazon/Kindle B&N/Nook also have arrangements that enable people to “lend” a book on their ereader to a friend’s ereader for a week or two. On the other hand, with a tablet you get to use apps that bring you all kinds of information. Some tablets enable you to connect via cell phone (for a price) as will as WIFI. (The Fire is just WIFI.) My advice: try out several and find what you like. There are some big changes coming down this pike this summer. cc @lindasherman:disqus

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  • http://verizonfiosavailability.webnode.com/ Patrick Hudson

    I think that any book addict would like to lay their hands on the ipad to read books or would have a hard copy of the book. Even though the use of hard copy is better, using the ipad has its own advantage.