Sales are down this year, despite prominent books by Dan Brown and Edward M. Kennedy. Wal-Mart and Amazon are locked in a war for e-commerce dominance, creating new worries among publishers and authors about dwindling profits.
But amid the gloom, some sellers and owners of electronic reading devices are making the case that people are reading more because of e-books.
Sony, maker of the Reader family of devices, says that its e-book customers, on average, download about eight books a month from its online library. That is far more than the approximately 6.7 books than the average American book buyer purchased for the entire year in 2008, according to Bowker, a publishing industry tracking firm.
The e-reader market also has a new competitor, the Nook, introduced by Barnes & Noble on Tuesday. It will sell for $259.
The book-buying numbers at Amazon and Sony may not by themselves indicate a new interest in reading. Owners of Kindles may be shifting all their book purchases to Amazon. Owners of e-book devices tend to be among the most passionate book buyers, so their behavior may not be reflective of the overall market.
Even so, fans of the reading devices suggest that the convenience of using these products, which offer a sense of control and customization that consumers have come to expect from all their media gadgets, has created a greater interest in books.
Patti Howard is among the converted. “It’s been a long time since I felt this way about books,” said Ms. Howard, a medical transcriptionist from Birmingham, Ala., who for years confined her book reading to 10 minutes before bed until she got an Amazon Kindle in August.
Ms. Howard now buys books any time she wants. She recently downloaded a fantasy novel at 2:30 a.m., immediately after finishing the previous book in a series. She reads during her snippets of daily downtime, like during the wait to pick up her 9-year-old son from school. Her new reading pace is one novel a week.
Other fans praise the benefits of e-book devices. The Kindle and Sony Reader, with their gray-and-white screens and adjustable type sizes, offer a satisfying experience with few of the distractions of other technologies.