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E-readers explode

The iPad, Amazon Kindle, Nook, Pandigital Novel -- and all types of e-readers really, -- are exploding in popularity, especially over the recent gift-giving holiday season. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

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With's recent announcement that the company's version of the e-reader, the Kindle, is now the top-selling item the site has ever offered, these phrases may soon be nearing extinction. And Amazon isn't alone.

All sorts of glassy screened handheld devices used to download books, newspapers and magazines are finding their way into the hands of young and old alike.

Gift-giving popularity

A local sales associate from Radio Shack in Willmar said the store had a hard time keeping its version of the e-reader, the Pandigital Novel, on its shelves this holiday season. According to the spokesperson, sales were especially strong amongst those who travel and -- more surprisingly -- baby boomers.

Patricia Radabaugh, 61, of Willmar, has owned an Amazon Kindle for about a year and now has several e-books downloaded to her e-reader. Each e-book takes less than a minute for Radabaugh to download and she said using the e-reader is simple.

"But I also use a computer all the time for my job," Radabaugh said.

A nursing instructor at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Radabaugh said her husband purchased the Kindle for her as a gift because she loves to read.

The price per e-book is $11 to $14 -- roughly the equivalent of a trade paperback -- but the e-reader allows users to purchase a new hardcover title at a paperback price.

"Rather than waiting for a new hardcover to come to paperback, I can get the Kindle version shortly," Radabaugh said.

Easy and efficient

Nicole Fries, 26, of Spicer, is also happy with the expediency offered by her e-reader, the iPad, which offers an e-reader application called eBook.

"You can be anywhere and get pretty much any book," Fries said.

Fries and her husband, Landon, purchased their tablet about nine months ago. Fries said the tablet wasn't purchased solely for the eBook application, but since purchasing the tablet she and her husband have downloaded more than 20 books.

Not only can Radabaugh and Fries get paperback prices on newly released books in minutes, but they save space in suitcases, bookshelves and car seats.

"Instead of taking four or five books along on a trip I can take my e-reader," Radabaugh said. "And if I finish all my books I can just download more."

Fries said she no longer needs to stock up on magazines before leaving for a long road trip; she can download magazines at cover stand price right to her e-reader.

Not without its drawbacks

It's a space and time saver no doubt, but the "e" in e-reader signals one obvious inconvenience: it shouldn't be taken everywhere. The glassy electronic device is far more temperamental than a book.

"It's mobile, but you wouldn't just throw it in your purse like you would a book," Fries said.

Bathtubs and lakes are two places Radabaugh said she is hesitant to bring her e-reader.

"I'll take it to the beach, but if I'm floating in the lake I'll grab a paperback version instead," Radabaugh said.

Radabaugh doesn't know too many others who own an e-reader, though she said most of her friends know what they are.

Fries is currently the only e-reader owner in her monthly book club. Fries said she has downloaded all but one book onto her tablet, admitting she sometimes misses an actual book to turn pages.

Another disadvantage Radabaugh points out: Good books are meant to be shared.

"If you read a good book you can't pass it on to someone else," Radabaugh said.

True, unless library systems begin to offer e-book services to lend to readers.

According to teen librarian Ryan McCormick at the Willmar Public Library, e-books are already available at Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis and Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud. McCormick speculates it could be several years before the Willmar Public Library offers e-books, though he adds Willmar Public Library will always strive to offer what people want.

"In the immediate future, there will always be those who can't afford an e-reader or won't understand the technology," McCormick said. "And of course, the people who just love a book."