By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
Jamie Groves has doubled his reading — up to more than 40 books a year — since he began downloading e-books on his Kindle.
Sandra Hines calls her Nook her "best Mother's Day present ever," after initially worrying, "It wouldn't feel like I was reading a real book."
Liz Jones used to buy a book every few months until she began reading on her iPod Touch. Now she's downloading a book a week.
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All are converts to e-books — books read on handheld devices. Still a minority, their ranks are growing and transforming the definition of reading and books.
E-book sales make up 9% of the consumer book market. Through August, their sales are up 193% over a year ago, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Novelist Stephen King, who says he does nearly one-third of his own reading on an iPad or Kindle, sees e-books becoming 50% of the market "probably by 2013 and maybe by 2012." But he also warns: "Here's the thing — people tire of the new toys quickly."
For now, King, who experimented with writing a digital book, Riding the Bullet, in 2000, when it had to be read on a computer, thinks people are reading more "because the screen now feels like home to them."
It's a transformation, says Peter Osnos, founder of PublicAffairs Books, "in the same way that people moved from silent pictures to talking pictures to movie theaters to television to television-on-demand. We are adapting to the notion that we can choose where, when and how we read books."
An estimated 4 million U.S. homes have an e-book reader such as Amazon's Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook, according to Forrester Research, which predicts sales of more than 29 million devices by 2015.
In a Harris poll conducted in August, 8% say they have an e-reader; 12% are likely to buy one in the next six months. But 80% say they're not likely to do so.
Those results "ratify that using devices for something (reading) that doesn't require a device at all, and has worked perfectly well for centuries, may not be of obvious appeal to the bulk of readers," says Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Lunch, a digital newsletter.
Michael Norris, an analyst with Simba Information, a market research firm, also questions if a tipping point has been reached.
He sees "gradual, uninterrupted growth in e-books, but tipping point implies there will be something overnight which will instantly change the character of the publishing business. Thousands of new consumers are showing up in the e-book 'yes' column every day, but on the other hand, there are still over 120 million people who buy print books."