Let’s Get Digital



When I meet readers who won’t touch digital books I usually say ‘It’s not an Either/Or thing – you’ll still love physical books just as much.’ But not all electronic devices are created equal. The Kindle dominates because it’s cheap and easy to use and offers the widest range of books, although I’ve never worked out why there’s a numerical location setting. Any issues you might initially have with tangibility generally fade away.

I find the simpler Kindle models better because the Paperwhite is kinder on the eyes. With backlit LEDs I start to get tired eyes after even short spells of reading. If you’re an urbanite you hardly need a 4G version because you’re always near a wi-fi hotspot. Beware the tablet that wants to be too many things. Oh, and you can now use them on UK flights during takeoff.

Some other e-readers (and I’ve had a few) work from middling to lousy websites, the absolute worst being Kobo’s partnership with the WH Smith site, which is as ramshackle and past its sell-by date as its shops (WH Smith regularly comes bottom in consumer polls).

Browsers love tablets. I can only vouch for movie magazines – I’m not much of a browser (I bought ‘Monocle’ once and didn’t even make it past the watch ads). Although I’m not fond of the bland writing in ‘Empire’ (or ‘Studio Ho’, as staff used to call it at work, because of its slavishly gushing, uncritical tone) the magazine is nicely interactive on a tablet. Many media mags like the tiny ‘Rue Morgue’ magazine have sorted out their digitisation by hotlinking with YouTube to run trailers and interviews for added value content.

Disappointingly, Britain’s excellent monthly bible of cinema, the BFI-owned ‘Sight & Sound’, has a truly terrible app that offers no linked extras at all and constantly crashes. It feels as if it’s been designed by someone who has never used a computer.

I switch between my Kindle hardbacks and paperbacks. I’m on my fourth one, having now broken two and upgraded twice, although it’s pretty hard to damage them. E-readers and tablets use solid-state storage drives, meaning there aren’t any moving parts inside of them. If you get beach sand inside anything, you can shake or tap the device to get it out without damaging it. Sheer ease of use pushes me to e-reading for most books where I simply want to power through words. If I want to take my time leafing over pages and illustrations, a hardback comes to bed with me.

As for moving images, although DVDs are dying out among under-20s, I prefer to purchase them because streaming doesn’t accommodate my eclectic tastes – none of my favourite European movies are available in any other format. This means that I have to lug around an optical drive as my laptop no longer supports one. But it does also mean I have a hard copy that can ride out the format changes.

As for music, I download (and pay) for it all. I only pirate if there is no physical way of purchasing a rare item that a fan has posted. With a Kindle I churn and burn; tossing aside books you don’t get on with is easier because they’re not in corporeal form and you don’t become attached to them. That goes for music and video, of course, but it also gets expensive, so I allocate a budget each month.

Digital reading tends to expose books which are all style and no substance. I love the stylish packaging that comes with Jeff Vandemeer’s anthologies and have bought several of them for this, but since I started reading them on Kindle I’ve discovered that his selections are not to my taste (too broad, too heart-warming), and that I’ve been lured in by the look of the physical objects.

Books as gifts are more popular than ever, and publishers are prepared to repackage with smart now looks. E-readers return a certain amount of austerity to reading – there’s nothing except you and the words. And it opdten feels that the digitisation came as an after-thought. Lately I’ve read a few e-versions that have been peppered with spelling errors.

I think the key thing for newbies to consider is this; do you browse or serially read books? Answering that question will decide whether you should get a tablet or an e-reader.

8 comments on “Let’s Get Digital”

  1. Russ Varley says:

    Agree with everything you said Chris, but there is one thing you missed out that means I will stick to paper. Under the licence agreement for a Kindle any books I buy are mine and mine alone. There is no way for me to pass them on to other people when I have finished with them or, and more importantly for me, leave to my children or grand children when I die. I have loads of fascinating books that belonged to various grandparents published in the 40s and 50s and I wouldn’t be without them because they give me such an engaging perspective on those times. With Kindle I can’t do that, when I’m gone so are they.

  2. David C says:

    Apart from the physical storage advantages of ebooks, one other advantage I have recently discovered is availability.
    The cost to publish potentially low volume sale books is much less, in e-format.

    I recently picked up an old novel, I read many years ago, which no longer published in paper format. Once the ebook version has been created the publisher does not have to worry about the size or maintenance of print runs.

    The other big advantage with ebooks is that they are usually available on multiple devices. If I am stuck waiting for someone or something, I can whip out my phone to continue reading a few pages from any of the 2 or 3 books I have on the go at any given time.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    This seems like a decent place for a mea culpa, so here goes:
    I am now looking for a fraudulent squib that I read somewhere many moons ago. It said that Christopher Fowler had a new B&M short in the most recent Oxfam collection of short stories being published this spring.
    Well, for once I held off reading your story in this excellent collection and when I eventually reached it, it turned out to be a non-B&M story set some years ago in Spain.
    But it is a very good story! And one well worth reading.
    The collection is great.
    So, fellow blog reader, don’t stone me for the mislead, but enjoy the story that’s included.

  4. m says:

    Despite my love of paper I will probably move to buying more ebooks over time. One annoying complication is when they’re region locked. I can’t seem to buy Bryant and May’s Mystery tour from outside the UK. I haven’t tried using s proxy yet but suspect that the retailers may not accept a cc with a US billing address. If I’ve missed an international seller pls let me know.

  5. Mim says:

    I like my Kindle, though I do have an affection for old crime novels with lurid covers, so still buy plenty of those. My husband’s gone pretty much all-digital.

    Paper books do have their advantages – they’re much easier to salvage if you drop them in the bath…

  6. Peter Lee says:

    I always find it weird when people turn their noses up at e-books and say that they won’t buy a Kindle or whatever because they like books and bookshops, the smell / feel / heft of a book, the look of them on a shelf etc. Just because you own a Kindle it doesn’t mean you can’t buy “real” books anymore! It’s the same elsewhere – just because you own a Blu-Ray player or have Netflix etc. you’re not banned from going to the cinema! If your house has a kitchen you can still eat out if you want to!

    There are some authors whose books I love, and when they release a new hardback or paperback I’ll instantly buy it to read and keep on my shelf (examples include Admin, Dan Rhodes, Haruki Murakami, Richard Russo, Douglas Coupland). Sometimes when they release a new book I’ll also splash out on the Kindle edition, as the hardback may be too big and heavy to lug around, plus I don’t want to damage the hardback. Then again, there are authors I’m merely curious about, so in their cases I may buy the Kindle version of the book if it is cheaper than the paperback, and sometimes when I do this I’ll find I love the book so much I then go out and buy a “real” copy to put on my shelf – “Stoner” by John Williams is a case in point there.

  7. Peter Lee says:

    Mim – with regard to your ebooks in the bath comment, buy yourself one of these:

    Okay, it’s £25, but it’s well made, waterproof to 30ft (if you have a really big bath), and if you drop it in the water it floats.

  8. Normandy Helmer says:

    I have 2 Nooks but most of my reading is done on my Android phone using the Kindle or FB Reader apps. It’s a Note 2 so has a big screen, not big enough for graphic novels but fine for text. I manage my books using Calibre, because I have strong views about cataloging and indexing, and I get to choose the covers. Most of my old SF and mysteries have the original covers instead of later versions, because those are the covers that are familiar and proper. I prefer to buy from DRM-free publishers so I can keep my files in migratable formats. I do hate the fact that UK publishers won’t sell me ebooks since I live in the US and would love a workaround. (Admin! Ready and willing to buy more of your stuff!) I also find most e-magazines are too fussy in the format to support actual reading.

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