So, which photo appeals more to you? The one on the left or the one on the right?
Recently I did a panel on teen fiction and someone stood up and said ‘You’ve all been talking about bookshops for an hour without anyone once mentioning online buying. I haven’t been in a bookshop in five years, and nor have any of my friends.’ I thought, good point. The Hay Festival is starting to look like a steam traction engine rally, and here we are debating how to keep secondhand bookshops alive while next month, the landscape of publishing will change forever (although it’s worrying that there has been no mention of the online bookstore from Apple UK yet).
The iPad could theoretically make paper books redundant. There are drawbacks; poor daylight reading, the difficulty of propping up the device, battery power and so on – but it’s another alternative that takes us away from carting about paperbacks. Which is why I’m so against the supersizing of ‘Airport Editions’ and paperbacks, and the continuation of fiction hardbacks at all. If paper wants to provide a real alternative it needs to become more portable, not less.
I’ll buy an iPad, and as a reviewer I’m sure I’ll soon be receiving books in this format instead of having to keep dedicated space for zillions of often not-very-good thrillers that get sent to Oxfam or dumped in hospitals. I don’t like reading books on my iPhone because the page size is too broken up, but as I already carry a bag wherever I go, this will be a real alternative.
A bookseller friend told me ‘this is the end. I’m part of the last generation that will see books out in this format.’ I think he’s wrong, because I’ll always want to collect beautiful editions, but who needs ugly-ass Airport Specials? Have you ever replaced a beloved book because you didn’t like the format? I have, many times.
Economics is driving us to choose. Publishers want to sell hardbacks and jumbo books for bigger profits, while electronic formats will continue to shrink sizes for portability. It’s we, the public, who can choose which we prefer through purchasing power.