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Open Question: Do You Read Books on a Cell Phone?

Mobile book reading is already popular in Japan and anecdotal evidence suggests it could be catching on elsewhere. I’m curious to see how prevalent phone-based book reading is within the TOC community.

  • Have you ever read an ebook on a cell phone? (This doesn’t include Kindles, Sony Readers and other standalone e-reader devices).
  • Have you read more than one ebook on a cell phone? If yes, how many do you typically read in a year?
  • What inspired you to first read books on your phone?
  • In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of reading books on phones?

Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

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Comments: 13

  1. I have read a book or two on my cell phone, I think the writing style has to fit the medium, most of the time I have my mobile it is for a quick period of time & there are a lot of distractions (like waiting in my car for a train) so getting lost in a book seems like a tall order.

    Now if the book was written in small chunks and released in installments (I think of Charles Dickens) I can imagine it better than attempting to read the latest NYT novel.

  2. I agree with David. I have not yet started reading books on my iPhone, but I definitely keep up on my RSS feed on my phone. If books were released in small chunks, daily, or bi-weekly, in an almost blog like setting than I think it could really take off.

    Many of us don’t have time to sit down and read books during the week, but we usually have time to catch a chapter on the train in the morning, or at lunch.

  3. @David and Kristen: DailyLit offers a book-segments-by-email service that can also be read as an RSS feed. We recently interviewed DailyLit CEO Susan Danziger.

  4. Until recently, the answer was no. My RAZR had the absolute worst internet capabilities ever not to mention a draconian plan that made me afraid to connect (not that I could easily do that anyway) Horrible horrible experience. I never read books on my smartphone (Windows) because that’s for work plus, it also isn’t so easy to use.

    In July I got an iPhone. Oh my gosh. What a difference a phone makes. I downloaded the complete works of Shakespeare (fun!) and eReader which came with Last of the Mohicans (already read it, so I scanned it a bit). I was impressed with how easy on the eyes it was to read.

    Two days ago, a writer friend of mine sent me an eARC (Advance Reading Copy – as a Word doc) of her about to be released book. Interestingly, eReader doesn’t easily permit uploading of your own content. So I got Stanza, which does. Getting her book onto my phone was a piece of cake, and I have been reading it quite happily as time permits.

    I have lots of the TOR ebooks they offered for download and several I’ve purchased from other ebook sites. Now I have a convenient place for them!

    So, to specifically answer some of your questions, my iPhone inspired me to read ebooks on my phone. Previously, I simply didn’t have capable equipment. I can’t answer the “how many in a year” question yet. Maybe next year. But given how easy it was to upload my own content I foresee many reading uses beyond reading books (I’m a writer myself. I’m a bit giddy at the possibilities.)

    Pros include the ease of acquiring and loading the books, no eye strain (so far) and the portability.

    The cons have been pretty widely mentioned elsewhere on the net; short time spans for reading long content, the inability to see how far I am into the book. And for the iPhone, battery issues may come into play.

    I’ll add a wish list: when I’m reading a book on my phone, I should be able to instantly access additional content, including the author’s website and/or content that supplements what I’m reading. I should be able to email the author and post reviews to various sites, all from within the book. There should also be links to the author’s backlist and upcoming titles so if I love the book I can go buy her other books, too (Print or ebook).

  5. I’m currently reading “The Last Lecture” on my Blackberry, so I think that qualifies. I bought the book from Mobi and am about halfway through it. Even though it’s a short and easy-to-read book it’s taken me almost 2 months just to get this far. Why? I’m only reading it when I’m standing in line at the grocery store or stuck in traffic. I figure it’s great to have a book on my Blackberry for situations like this since I always have my Blackberry with me…there’s no way I’d bring my Kindle with me to the grocery store!

    And as you mentioned earlier, Mac, DailyLit is an excellent service for this sort of thing as well. Earlier this year I signed up for one of their Wikipedia service products on the U.S. Presidents. It was a great way to brush up on my history. I’m currently working through another one of their Wikipedia Tours on Famous Inventors. Installment #14 (out of 25) is currently sitting in my e-mail in-box and I’m looking forward to reading it later, when I’m stuck in line somewhere!

  6. A cell phone screen is roughly the same size as that of a Franklin REX, and I read /House of the Seven Gables/, /Heart of Darkness/, an H.G. Wells short-story anthology, and more on that. Basically, you’re viewing a paragraph at a time, but for people who read much, the convenience of carrying a library in your pocket is incredible. (I’ve since gone on to read /War and Peace/ on my PDA, which might have been a stretch on a cell phone–but then, it’s a stretch even in print.)

  7. @Lester: War and Peace on a PDA — now *that* is impressive. How long did it take?

  8. Not a phone, but technically the same – I’ve been reading on Windows Mobile for pocket pc pretty much exclusively for about 8 years. I only read physical books if I can’t find an ebook version (which nowadays is pretty rare). I read about 15 books a year, all of them ebooks.

    Being a book-lover and writer, I never thought I’d be able to give up the “feel” of physical books, but on a trip to the beach many years ago I decided I was going to give it a whirl and read a book on the way to the beach on my pocket pc. I fell in love with it at that point, and what tipped me over the edge was when it got dark and I was still reading my book in the car! From that moment on, I never looked back.

    PROS: having the book with me everywhere I go, and it doesn’t take up a huge amount of space; reading in the dark; quick dictionary look-ups via software; lightweight; less awkward holding positions (much easier than holding open a hardback and slightly easier than a paperback); automatic bookmarking; searches via software; free ebook giveaways by authors.

    CONS: No “physical” book nostalgia, but I satiate this by still going to Barnes and Noble and browsing through the bookshelves with coffee in hand. My final purchase, however, is done via an ebook store.

  9. I’ve read a couple of books on my N95 both as text files. The inspiration came when I decided I didn’t want to read a CC-released novel on my computer screen.

    After a testing a variety of programs, I found the N95’s Notes application did what I needed it to do, displaying a reasonable font-size, and automatically wrapping the text to save any horizontal scrolling. It performed better if I broke the whole file into chunks of several chapters.

    Yes, I’d like a larger screen, but I’m quite won over by the paragraph-by-paragraph reading style. I find it quick, and skip less than I would on a page format.

    I’d also like a nicer way of scrolling through the text than using the N95’s hard keys, and proper e-book functionality such as bookmarking.

    For now, I’ll only use it for something appropriate for reading on the move that presents itself in a textfile format.

  10. Yes, I do read books on my cell phone. I have a 1st generation iPhone and it’s perfect for reading books. Once the app store opened up I quickly downloaded eReader and started buying books off of Fictionwise.

    Before that, I used Readdle to read short stories I downloaded off of Amazon Shorts.

    So far, everything I have read on my iPhone has been purely for pleasure. I don’t do heavy reading or anything like that. What I like about it though, is that I always have my iPhone with me, so no matter where I am, if I have a few extra minutes to spare, I can easily read a few pages of the current book I’m reading.

    I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to carry around a lot of stuff. So with the iPhone, I have a cell phone, iPod, web browser and ebook reader all rolled into one. Perfection!

  11. I read books on my Treo all the time. I buy “real books” if it’s a book I want to keep. I made the switch from buying mass market paperback versions of mysteries and other light reading (which I would donate/give away when done) to buying ebooks of the same type.

    I would say that I read about a book or two per month this way.

  12. I have read many books on my cell phone,I usually have a couple going. I guess I’d say I do a substantial amount of leisure reading on my phone.

    The phone is a couple of years old and fits a paragraph or so on each screen, that does not seem to get in the way of the reading experience – it just feels like reading. The small screen would be hopeless for diagrams and such. The keypad is excruciating for entering search terms or note taking – but I really only use it to consume a story.

    It’s nice to know the story is always there without having to remember to lug the book. It’s nice that it’s not an extra device. I can read at night without disturbing my wife. I have internet connectivity so when I need a new book I just hit mobile.booksinmyphone.com and install another – content is limited but there are other options if I want to book-ify something else. It’s a lot more useful than many of the ‘features’ that came with the phone.

    To sum up; it feels just like reading a book, it’s always with me, I can get a new book on impulse in under a minute.

  13. Yes, I have read ebooks using in PDF and Mobipocket format on both Palm OS and Nokia. Since getting the E90 (Resolution: 800 x 352) last year, I have stopped using the Palm.

    Anyway, I’ve probably read more than 30 ebooks in both formats, more in Mobipocket format because its more versatile that the PDF lite version that’s available for Symbian s60 v3 platform. Also, MobiPocket Desktop allows PDF to be imported so all the ebooks are in the Mobipocket library.

    Pros for mobile reading:
    1) Covenience – night time reading on bed, downtime reading (altho’ concentration not there sometimes), other convenient moments (ie. loo/toilet, ahem!).

    2) Ubiquitous – anytime, anyplace, any topic (but not ‘anyhow’ McCain!)

    3) Digital notation – particularly useful altho’ this depends on platform/device.

    Cons of mobile reading:
    1) Lacks depth – difficult to follow through directly for more in-depth; operative word is ‘directly’ because the notation on device is still good for when I have a full browser

    2) Tiresome, the size of the screen is not fully suited to quick readers

    3) Digital notation – altho’ it can be done on Mobipocket for Symbian, it asynchronous interaction because the notebook/PC cannot see the notes. In other words, the notes are sitting pretty uselessly in the mobile and I’ve got to go back to it constantly.

    In sum:
    First, I use the mobile as my ubiquitous device – always on – for reading, surfing, emailing, backup, etc.

    Second, the mobile device platforms haven’t arrived yet, ie. size vs power is still not optimal. So, the interaction with the device and my, say, Mac is not seamless.

    Finally, like the (hopefully) good idea of Google Chrome ideas of multi-processing instead of just multi-threading, it’s an attitude thing with mobile devices, not just a technology issue.

    By the way, I live in Asia, and as MobileMe/Apple is only slowly gaining ground, Nokia is very big here, with a good understanding of the cultural aspects of mobile usage as well. Also, I’ve been in wireless industry for more than 10 years, which might explain my usage.

    uwwiredasia.blogspot.com (NOT up)

    PS. Just saw your 1st point on Japan, and funny thought came up, I’ve worked/travelled many Asian countries but I’ve never been to Japan!