Note: as happened with words like e-mail and on-line, e-book and e-reader are rapidly losing their hyphens, which is the format I’ve opted for here. Interestingly, the Word spell-checker recognises ebook, but not ereader.
Regular readers will know that I feel that ereaders are very much a solution in search of a problem, and that many ebooks are overpriced. No way is there any justification for charging the same price as an actual book as was the case last time I checked – there are no paper, printing, distribution or storage costs for a start). The fact that Amazon have finally brought a new version of their Kindle ereader to the UK (£109), has done little to change either view.
However, having suffered considerably recently, while holding and reading a 4lb hardback (arthritic hands, elbows), I’m viewing the idea of getting one more favourably, though £109 would buy me quite a lot of books on the second-hand market.
I think, on the whole, uptake of ereaders is likely to be age-related. In my lifetime I’ve bought and/or read something like 8,000+ books, and currently own over 2,000 so, clearly, heavy hardbacks aside, nothing is going to change my buying habits now. I’m still unsure whether an ereader would make a viable adjunct to my books, though it would never replace them (as I’m typing this I’m checking out the new Kindle).
If though, I were a twenty-something, and of a bookish inclination, I might well take the electronic route (perhaps not, though – a love of books extends far beyond just the words on the page).
In use, too – as I’ve said previously – ereaders are something of a liability. Drop one on a tiled or concrete floor and it’s likely to expire messily; drop a book and you have the minor inconvenience of bending down to pick it up, rather than fetching a dustpan and brush. Leave a book on the bus or train and you’re inconvenienced. Leave an ereader and you’re considerably out of pocket. And when you consider what people do leave on public transport, that’s probably very likely.
Likewise if you like to read in the pub or coffee bar. Spill your drink on a book, you have a wet book which will dry out and still be readable. Spill it on an ereader, it’s probably history. You can re-download your books, but you still need a new device.
OK, this is not something I’ve personally done, even though my smartphone lives on the bar when I’m in the pub – for text and email, and web browsing if I can get a decent signal – but people routinely do trash their electronic devices. Dropping a mobe into the lavatory pan isn’t exactly unknown, for example, or just plain dropping it. I think, in the 15 years I’ve been using mobes, I’ve dropped them maybe 3-4 times, never down the toilet! I think I’d be quite safe with a Kindle.
What, though, of the second-hand market? I buy many books second-hand. Indeed, I wouldn’t be able to afford as many as I do if I had to pay the full price. Will a second-hand market in ebooks develop? Logically, as you can do whatever you like with a paper book – loan it, give it away, sell it – you should be able to do that with your ebooks. Bet you won’t be able to, though, not legally.
Amazon are confident that introducing the new Kindle will be the tipping-point for ebooks in Britain. I’m not so sure. The tipping-point is unlikely to be reached until ebooks have a common format, something which seems as far away as ever.
Amazon says, regarding prices, that “…our prices are the lowest of any ebookstore in the UK. Compare our ebook prices – you’ll like what you find.”
You can’t do that though. The Kindle Store doesn’t open until August 27 but, as I can order a Kindle now, in advance, why can’t I do that with content? Right now, they’d like people to place an advance orders for the new Kindle, without being able to check out whether I’d be willing to pay what they ask for ebooks, or see what they have in stock. That’s not too helpful, guys, though the thing seriously appeals for reading in bed, not to mention saving space, and the Kindle is the cheapest ereader by some margin (checking the US Kindle Store shows ebook prices to be reasonable).
There are, for me at least, three areas where an ereader would score over paper – reading in bed, reading newspapers, and space-saving. I lie down to read in bed (and, when I start to nod, just slip the book under my pillow and drift off; it works quite well), but a Kindle would be much easier to hold.
Then there are newspapers. One reason why tabloids are popular with the old is that they are far easier to hold than broadsheets (or even semi-broadsheets, like the Guardian’s “Berliner” format). Papers on an ereader would be easier still, regardless of format, and the ink wouldn’t come off on your fingers and clothes. Back when I paid for the paper versions of the Guardian and Observer, rather than reading them online as now, my hands and any light-coloured clothes I was foolish enough to wear, immediately betrayed my reading habits. It was while reading the Guardian that I took to wearing black T-shirts.
I don’t actually have the space for all the books I’ve already got (hundreds are boxed up and put away), so buying electronic versions will certainly prevent that problem getting worse. Well, sort off, because I have no doubt that I shall continue to buy conventional books, but by no means as many of them.
Barring anything untoward, I have maybe 15 years of book-buying left (hopefully more!), not to mention magazines – that’s a hell of a lot of space-consuming paper and, much as I love books, I simply don’t have the space so, as August is double DLA month (once a year a month contains 2 pay-days, because DLA is paid 4-weekly), I’ve ordered one, plus a leather case to protect my investment.
I’ve opted for the basic version, the other version has 3G connectivity, which I don’t need – I have that on my smartphone. As I said above, it costs £109. In the US it goes for $139, but before you get worked up, remember there are state and local sales tax to be added to that. The actual price differential is about £1 in favour of the US when taxes are factored in, according to someone in the Guardian who bothered to work it out though, of course, that difference will vary between states and even cities in the US.
Incidentally, the new Kindle has a text to speech function, so normal ebooks become audio books, sort-of, as well as playing Audible and mp3 format versions (and mp3 music files, of course). It has a capacity of up to 3,500 books in its “about” 3GB user memory.