For the love of the (e)Book

An interesting article on the potential change that eBooks will bring to reading:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/14/kindle-books

I truly enjoy digital reading. If one is to be fussy about the format of the book, then that is to be selective about reading altogether. I am currently working my way through all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, of which there are 48 short stories and four novels. I am about two-thirds through, and dreading running out until House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz’s authorised contribution to the canon.

I am reading it my iPad 1, and I love that I can read it in any light, under the covers and on my side without having to hold the pages open. I can annotate passages, highlight them and call up a dictionary on the odd occassion. While it is an occasionally distracting medium with the errant hand movement flicking the page, the pages move as quickly as they would if they were paper.

But at the end of the day, I am still reading. There are the hundreds of thousands of Gutenberg press titles, as well as the hundreds of thousands of books that will not be converted or published as eBooks. What many publishers see in eBooks is less money on printing and more for marketing. Yes they can be pirated, but haven’t we all got a loaned book that the owner has forgotten to reclaim? With eBooks there is far less risk in publishing new authors, and a little more of the profit can go to the author. A new author currently earns about 3% on the book price, depending on the publishing house. Of course there are titles like The Language of Flowers, which the subject of a nine-publisher bid. But most authors have to have day jobs, and it is only the super stars that can live off their writing.

eBooks may also be the best chance we have of mass-distributing academic texts that are expensive and often hard on student and school budgets. One day eReaders will be cheap, and children will have access to thousands more books, both fiction and non-fiction. Isn’t this a wonderful thing?

Of course I love paper books; that much will not change. And many places in the world don’t even have stable electricity or food, never mind eReaders. For them, a paper book will still be precious. Perhaps, when the rich West gets tired of paper books, we should give them all away to anyone who wants them. Language barriers aside, it would be a fine use for all those books that have been replaced by their coded friends.

Bring on the eBook, I say, but let’s never forget the joy of a fresh book or the comfort of our most dog-eared friends.

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