A survey (reported in the Wall Street Journal) finds that “People who buy e-readers tend to spend more time than ever with their nose in a book, preliminary research shows.” The survey only covered the US, a country noted for its declining reading habits. Australia, by contrast, is a country of book readers, where independent bookstores still flourish. However, we have had very little access to ebook readers, our experience being largely limited to reading about them online except for those few gadget-happy jetsetters, so it will be sometime before there are enough ebook users to sample. That changed, for me at least, with the iPad’s arrival here in May 2010.

My iPad comes installed with iBooks of course, which in Australia still has only free (out-of-copyright) titles. I have installed the Kindle app and the Borders app (powered by Kobo) and have been reading books on all three devices. Comparison of the experiences offered with each ebook app, and the scant availablity of books here, are subjects for future posts. For now, I just want to provide my own anecdotal experience on whether the time I spend reading books has increased.

I am and always have been an avid reader. I am both voracious and eclectic when it comes to fiction, more selective with non-fiction. But I have to confess I am not much of a book buyer, for two reasons. I have moved so often that I have honed my library down to those books I return to time and again and cannot bear to be without. In anticipation of such moves, I now only buy those books I have read and am confident I may want to read again. So borrowing books, recommendations from people I trust, and extensive browsing, are all ways in which I sample a book before I decide it should have a permanent place on my bookshelves.

However, as a busy professional, my reading habits were in decline: I am rarely near a bookshop or a library, or have time to spend browsing in either, and don’t seem to swap books with people nearly as much as I used to. So I have mainly been re-reading those precious staples of my library, but after a while even that becomes stale.

That has changed with the iPad. Now, I can browse and shop for books at midnight from the comfort of my bed, and have the book downloaded for immediate reading or later at my convenience. I find I am reading at night, on the bus, and at home, much much more. I have read new books by new authors in new genres, as well as various classics and older works I’ve been mean reading to for ages. I’ve found the reading experience on the iPad completely immersive and I am able to read all night if I wish. It’s actually easier to hold the iPad than most books, and to hold it with one hand while tapping the page with my thumb to turn it. I can adjust the screen brightness for the light conditions, and the font size if my eyes are already tired. Only once have I had the battery die on me – but since I’d been reading for hours already that was probably doing my eyes a favour.

Am I an ebook convert? Absolutely. Will I stop reading print books? Unlikely. At the moment, I am still reading two books in print at the same time as I am reading ebooks – the difference is that I don’t carry these around with me.