Are e-readers making books obsolete?

Pros and Cons of E-readers vs. Books

When considering the question of whether e-readers are making books obsolete, it helps to take a look at what e-readers actually do. As of early 2011, there were at least a dozen different models on the market, each with its own specific features and capabilities. None are good at everything, and so choosing one over the other depends on which of those capabilities are most important to you.

Some e-readers are just that -- devices dedicated to displaying digital books, newspapers and magazines. Examples include Amazon's Kindle, the Sony Reader, Borders' Kobo, and Barnes and Noble's Nook. Some dedicated e-readers offer Internet connectivity and other high-end functionality, but their main purpose is to display e-books, which they generally do very well.

Other e-readers are more aptly called tablets. These devices come equipped with features like Wi-Fi, MP3 support and full-color touch screens. They're a lot like laptop computers, but smaller and a bit more portable. The Apple iPad is one example of a tablet. It isn't an e-reader in the technical sense, but its size means you can certainly use it as such. Barnes and Noble's NookColor falls somewhere in between; it's a color-enhanced tablet-style device, but with fewer capabilities than the iPad.

So how do traditional books compare to these newfangled gadgets? For starters, you can enjoy a traditional book in direct sunlight. This is tricky at best with tablet-style e-readers (think of your laptop screen on the beach at high noon), though dedicated e-readers are much better in these situations because of their black-and-white or grayscale displays. Loaning books may also be an issue with e-readers. For those who are accustomed to sharing their reading material, there are a variety of lending applications for e-books -- such as the Nook's LendMe feature -- though these may have some limitations, including time constraints on lending periods.

Cost is another potential downside to e-readers. Consumers may pay anywhere between $140 and $500 for an e-reader, and many of the most popular books (i.e., bestsellers) cost about $9.99 at best. For people accustomed to shopping at second hand book shops or borrowing the bulk of their reading material, this can be quite an investment. Only a few e-readers allow users access to library content.

Still, there's no doubt that e-readers are handy for book worms. Each has the ability to store thousands of books in one easy-to-use device, which makes these gadgets very convenient for students, travelers and anyone who does a lot of reading on the go.

That's just a quick comparison of e-readers with old-school books in terms of usability and practicality. But what does the future hold for these formats? Read on to find out.