Ask any ardent bibliophile. It’s the books.

Books two and three rows deep on every bookshelf. Books stacked on their faces in spires and columns. Books packed away in boxes, relegated to storage, demoted to also-read but too beloved to discard.

This is the liability that is a love of reading and books. Bibliophiles accumulate vast stores of books, which they love dearly. Until recently, the reluctance to divest oneself of one’s books was a shared grief among them. But the e-book is the future – and more and more readers are coming to terms with this fact.

“I came grudgingly to the e-reader world,” admits Lori Nash Byron of FamousinYourField, a consulting and training company. “I’ve always considered myself a paper purist. I read about two books per week, alternating between best-seller fiction, business books and histories.”

It was the ease of using and synchronizing her books across multiple devices that finally sold Lori on the e-reader’s benefits. “It’s terrifyingly fast and easy to think of a book, buy the book and begin reading,” she says, “all in less than 60 seconds.”

“I currently have a Kindle Fire,” says reader Autumn Beam. “Before I received it last Christmas as a gift, I hated the idea of e-readers and swore that I would stick with hard copies. Now that I’ve owned an e-reader, I can’t imagine life without one.”

Lori and Autumn are not alone in overcoming their reluctance to embrace the e-reader. Sales of e-books in the United States surpassed those of hardcovers for the first time this year. In Canada, while print sales are still greater, e-book sales have captured more than 16 percent of the total book market. More retailers are entering the market for electronic books. Those already in it are expanding their reach by partnering with traditional booksellers, as in the case of Kobo and Barnes and Noble.

“We are producing all of our current catalog in MOBI and EPUB formats,” says Steven Siler of Smoke Alarm Media, a culinary-related media publisher in the Northwest and deep South. Siler explains that his company chose the MOBI format because of Amazon’s domination of the market thus far, while EPUB has become a de facto standard embraced across Kobo, Apple and Android readers.

“I use both Nook and Kindle eBook readers,” counters Jason Myer, an Operations Supervisor in St. Louis, Mo. “I have always felt that the Nook was the better option. I have just had better success with finding the more rare books I was looking for, more easily and at a better price, with Barnes and Noble. I also just feel the format is easier to read.”

Driving the growing e-reader market must and will always be the people reading those e-books. For the bibliophile, the e-reader represents twin gratifications: First, instant access to a book ordered online, with no waiting and no shipping time, and second, freedom from a physical accumulation of books. For those who have lived with piles, stacks, boxes and bookcases full of books for most of their lives, dominating one or more room of their homes, the liberation from encumbrance offered by electronic books and electronic readers is a primary benefit.

This benefit may even outweigh the instant gratification of ordering books online for delivery to the reader device. This is especially true because, for the moment, the reader market is wide open, recalling the days when VHS and Beta or Blu-ray and HD-DVD battled for supremacy. Until a format gains true dominance, the choice of file type and sales service plays as large a role as the more fundamental choice to go electronic in one’s reading. This complicates the decision to migrate from paper to electrons.

“I plan on going exclusively with Nook from now,” says Jason Myer. “With the news of Wal-Mart dropping the Kindle, I expect to see an increase in the amount of content for Nook. I also expect to see in the short term a decrease in price for Nook, as they try to steal away as many Kindle users as possible. Now may be the time to load up on a bunch of books you have wanted to read. Eventually I think the decrease in price will become an increase as they monopolize the market.”

“I have been and continue to be a loyal Kindle user,” vows Susan Robertson, principal and innovation process consultant for Ideas to Go Inc. “I kept switching [reader devices] until the technology reached the optimal form for the way I use it. … I love that I can read the same book (starting at the right spot) from my iPad or iPhone in a pinch, if I have to, and then seamlessly switch back to the Kindle. There are still lots of books available for this format, and I don’t expect that to change for quite a while.”

Reader Anne Maxfield agrees. “Although I read everything on my iPad, I get everything from Kindle,” she writes. “I owned a Nook and was happy with it until a trip to Europe. Even though my B&N account was based and billed in the U.S., I couldn’t download any new books because of international copyright issues. Not the case with Amazon. Since then, they’ve been my only source of e-books.”

Other book consumers have shared similar problems that influenced their e-reader decisions. Diane Lockard, a mentor at the Salt Lake City Community College Writing Center, owns a “basic” Kindle because she finds it easier to use. “I carry it with me when I travel, so there isn’t a problem with carrying actual books,” she says. “I have a tablet with Android capabilities to download e-books, but it isn’t as user friendly.”

Susan Risdal, administrations director for Enterprise Technology Services, LLC, sums up the e-reader experience – and dilemma – succinctly.

“No matter what the next great improvement is created on e-readers,” she writes, “if the website and customer service are not comparable, the improvements are wasted.”

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