The number of people subscribing to newspapers may be shrinking as they flock to the Internet, but electronic book readers won't shred the market for ink, paper, glue and binding anytime soon.
After years of promises and false starts, booksellers and technology companies are diving into the world of digital books. Sony Corp is selling the Reader Digital Book for $299, while giant online shopping company Amazon.com offers the Kindle for $399.
New readers are lighter than the average hardback fiction bestseller, easy on the eyes and let readers carry around as many as 200 titles in hardware that weighs less than a pound.
But to some people, there's something missing.
It's, I guess, the feel of holding a book that someone really put a lot of effort into writing, and you kind of lose that a little bit with a digital product, said Katy Farina, 21, of Montgomery, New Jersey.
Farina, a student at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, was browsing at the Borders bookstore near Madison Square Garden. As shoppers lined up at closing time, the subtle, comforting aroma of books permeated the store.
It feels real, whereas (the reader) kind of separates you a little bit from the story, Farina said.
Harry Howe, who had picked up Surrender Is Not an Option by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, said he might use an e-book reader for blog or Web site material that he wanted to read while away from home, but not for reading a novel.
It's just not a physical experience that I'm yet comfortable with, said Howe, 55, who teaches accounting at the State University of New York's Geneseo campus and lives in Rochester. On the other hand, I didn't grow up reading things on various Web sites.
Farina said she would like a reader for traveling because she would not have to transport so many books. This is something that HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide Chief Executive Jane Friedman said is a prime advantage.
To put 10 books on your Sony reader or on your Kindle is a lot better than carrying 10 books, she said.
Readers often shy away from using the devices until they discover how pleasant reading on them can be, Friedman said.
I was always the person who said, 'how can you have any kind of experience but the tactile experience of holding a book in your hand?' she said. And I still feel that way about certain books; but I don't feel that way about every single book I read.
Neither Sony nor Amazon would say how many machines they have sold, but enough people apparently are interested in trying them out. An Amazon executive at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week said the Kindle sold out on its first day in 5-1/2 hours.
Buying books for the Kindle is as easy as using Amazon to buy regular books, with the price often being a few dollars cheaper because of the absence of a physical product and titles available through a wireless download. Sony's eBook Store offers downloads through its own software to a buyer's PC. The volumes are then sent from the PC to a Reader Digital Book through a USB cable.
And for people wavering between paper and pixels, Sony does offer a concession -- an optional leather cover. I think it's a shrewd move, said Howe. How retro is that!