by Sally McPherson, Broadway Books

Electronic books will never completely replace printed books, in my opinion, but there’s no question that they are increasing in popularity and that they have their advantages.

Carrying a ten-ounce reader that holds hundreds of books can be easier than carrying a heavy stack of books, especially when traveling by plane. And then there’s the convenience of immediacy: you hear an author interviewed on NPR after your favorite bookstore is closed and you’re in your jammies—with just a few clicks, you can start reading the author’s book without leaving home.

So you’ve decided an e-reader makes sense, for you or as a gift, but which one should you buy?

If the device will only be used to read books, it’s best to get a dedicated e-reader. If you also want to be able to use the device to read magazines, check your email, surf the Internet, listen to music, watch movies, play Angry Birds, or other such activities, then consider a multifunctional device, such as a tablet.

Other factors to consider:
• Do you want a touch screen?
• Do you prefer e-ink or LCD display?
• What size of screen do you want?
• How much battery life and storage space is appropriate?
• What file formats should your device support?
• How much money do you want to spend?

In choosing an e-reader, an important consideration—and one that people often overlook—is where you want to be able to buy e-books. Kindle users can buy books from only a single source: Amazon. They cannot purchase e-books anywhere else. Last year, Amazon temporarily removed the “buy” buttons for books published by Macmillan. Kindle users were denied access to a publisher’s full line of books. Amazon has also been known to pull books back after Kindle owners have bought them.

Would you buy a car if you could only fill up at a single gas station? It might be fine for a while, but what if that service station decided to dramatically increase its prices? Or deliver bad gas? Or just stop selling gas? You would be stuck, because you would have no other options. Kindle users essentially find themselves in this situation.

All the other reading devices currently available allow you to buy e-books from multiple sources, enabling you to support local independent bookstores that have e-book sales capability. Even Barnes & Noble, which sells the Nook product line, allows you to buy books from, for instance, Broadway Books—a competitor. Book lovers should be able to have the best of both worlds: the convenience of e-books when they want them and the ability to continue to support their local independent bookstores.

I haven’t used every reading device myself, so I can’t say which is the best. And everyone’s situation is different. I’ve used my mother’s Nook Simple Touch dedicated e-reader and found it easy to use with impressive page turning—and the battery lasts seemingly forever. Recently, Consumer Reports rated e-readers, and it ranked the Nook Simple Touch the top choice. The Nook Color, which offers more versatility—it’s essentially a tablet—also ranked high. It’s got sharp text and slick page turns.

I know people with Apple iPad tablets who read e-books regularly and seem satisfied with the experience. I’ve tried reading books on my phone and on my iPod Touch, but reading on such a small screen isn’t an enjoyable experience for me—although several of my friends (albeit younger and better-visioned) do read on their phones and like doing so. The American Booksellers Association recently released a nifty new app, IndieBound Reader, that enables book lovers to purchase and read e-books from their local independent bookstores. Currently, IndieBound Reader is available for the Android operating system, and it will soon be available for iOS devices.

Before you buy, experiment with different e-readers if you can—some libraries offer “tech petting zoos” where you can try out different e-reading devices. If you’re in the Portland area, the Multnomah County Central Library is offering classes on choosing e-readers December 4 and 5. If you’re buying one as a gift, be sure the giftee really wants an e-reader; we get lots of customers in the store who were given e-readers and have no desire to read electronically. Finally, decide if you want to be able to buy e-books from a variety of sources, including your local independent bookstores—we can use the help, and we appreciate the support!

Sally McPherson revels in the opportunity to match people with books that will make them smile. After many years in the publishing industry, she became a partner in Broadway Books with the store’s cofounder, Roberta Dyer, in 2007. In April 2012, Broadway Books will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Watch for news about the big celebration. In the meantime, check out the store’s website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and YouTube channel.