Don’t think there’s anything about “screen reading” that prevents you from digesting weighty books, but I’m not surprised that it’s the “disposable” books that have proliferated on e-readers. With literary fiction and more substantial nonfiction, people like to be able to share books, make notes in them, and just generally have them around the house as durable objects. For the same reason, people will oftentimes buy a book they’re borrowed from the library, if it means enough to them. This is much less so with romance fiction, which readers basically see as something they’re going to plow through the leave in a bus stop somewhere, more or less like a copy of Us magazine.
From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales. Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances. Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.
These are, by design, the most disposable of books. We read them quickly and have no desire to hang onto them after we’ve turned the last page. We may even be a little embarrassed to be seen reading them, which makes anonymous digital versions all the more appealing. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon probably wouldn’t have happened if e-books didn’t exist.
Readers of weightier fare, including literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less inclined to go digital. They seem to prefer the heft and durability, the tactile pleasures, of what we still call “real books”—the kind you can set on a shelf.