Books VS Kindle: Round Two




Here we go again. The Guardian just ran an article excoriating the Kindle experience in the wake of lowered sales, accusing it of being ugly, clunky, unhip and lacking in user friendliness, and welcoming back the dear old print book. In some respects, of course, it’s absolutely right. But the picture is a bit more complicated.

Sales of consumer ebooks have dropped by 17%, while sales of physical books are up 8%. Consumer spending on books was up £89m across the board last year, compared with 2015, the perfect time, perhaps, for journos to attack technology and praise the sight and smell of old books. It’s been like welcoming the return of the wooden fork over the food mixer.

What really happened, of course, was that publishers finally pulled their socks up and started printing better-looking books. But they’re still two or three times the price of e-books, and that’s a lot when you’re not sure you’re going to enjoy a novel.

I’m on my seventh Kindle, thanks to my tested-to-destruction methods of reading. I tried every other make of e-book – many of them much smarter but less instinctive, some downright horrible – and returned to the Kindle (an Oasis, better-looking but still not exactly an iPhone in design) because I read much much more now, at a fraction of the cost, than I ever did before.

As I spend a lot of time on trains and planes, I rather like having a thousand books on me instead of two – and those in horrible, ugly airport editions that take up too much room. I read four or five at once, switching between them, and buy the best ones again in paperback or hardback if they’re real keepers. I use my Kindle to make notes, highlight passages, save documents, learn new vocabulary, search dictionaries and Wikis, and get free books from different organisations.

But why compare an e-book to a paperback? they’re different beasts, both fine in their ways. As someone who has two books out exclusively on e-readers this year and a backlist of 20 out-of-print books which would otherwise be unavailable, I’m prejudiced.

I agree that e-readers need a makeover now in terms of interface and design, but if they hadn’t happened books would have bumbled along with lousy marketing plans and awful design forever.

I recently gave an e-reader to a 75 year-old friend who instantly took to it and adores its capabilities, from being able to read at night to changing the typeface and font size. Hopefully a little competition will continue to pull up both sides, electronic and paper. What won’t help is a bit of ludicrous crowing from luddite hacks about the failure of technology.

Oh, and that Guardian article was written by a journalist whose debut novel is just out. It’s available on the system she despises – Kindle.


11 comments on “Books VS Kindle: Round Two”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    I use a kindle app on my android tablet and love it, mostly because I don’t have to wear my glasses and have a bright electric light on.

  2. Brian Evans says:

    My partner and I love books-we have a house full and a few years ago we had to up-size because of them. Now I have an e-reader I find I have another dimension to my love of reading-I can carry a lot round to dip into whenever I want. There doesn’t have to be one or the other-what’s wrong with enjoying both?

  3. David says:

    I’ve got Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear in the Penguin Modern Classics print out from the library which seems like a paperback from my youth, it’s battered and the pages are a bit curly, but it feels so comfortable to hold and carry. I’ve also got out the new Philip Kerr 500 page hardback Bernie Gunther novel, and much as I’m enjoying the story as a book to hold and read it’s a nightmare, it’s far too heavy and cumbersome. This is one of the reasons I’ve taken to the Kindle and ebooks, as I get older I just find it more convenient and easy to live with. The other advantage of the ereader is that in one paperback sized piece of kit you can carry around a vast library, so never again need you be held ransom in a foreign country when you are desperate to read something in English but are dismayed at the prices being charged in bookshops and airports for anything in your native tongue.

  4. Martin Tolley says:

    I too have read many more books in the past few years since getting a Kindle. My old Touch edition is still merrily spinning away, possibly the fall off in sales of e-readers is because (if you’re not as destructive as Mr F) there’s not much to go wrong with them, and if they work, they continue to work. The only issue I find is that turning over in bed, brushing it with the duvet, having it fall on my chest when I doze off a tad etc sends it off to who knows where and it’s a bu**er getting back to the correct page. But as I get older an e-reader is much easier to manage than real books, and I wistfully look around the four or five rooms I used to be able to walk through unimpeded and the windows I could once look through, and wish these gizmos had been about forty years ago – how much more spacious my little house would be. And deleting a book you try and don’t like seems a natural thing to do, whereas actually throwing a paper book away…. I don’t think I could do, or have ever done. All that said, I don’t Kindle everything – my local library has a subscription service for magazines and newspapers, and those things need to be skipped and skimmed and picked at and poked into in a parallel fashion, not read from front to back, in a serial way. And lending e-books or giving them as gifts is a pain which usually needs some technological crime or other to be committed.
    In just the same way as paperbacks and hardbacks co-exist, e-books can live alongside them as well. It’s horses for courses in many respects. Publishers need to realise that people want and need stories. Fictional ones or factual ones, and they have the opportunity to supply those in a variety of forms. Kodak went out of business because it thought it was in the film manufacturing business, it didn’t realise it was in the image construction business.

  5. DC says:

    The questions is, is it a trend, a blip or just a bit of re-balancing?

    If you look at the failure of the CD market vs the sustained resurgence in Vinyl sales and combine that with the booming market for fountain pens and depressed smart watch sales, it is clear that we have completely rejected the digital world.

    We should demand to be allowed to return to one where we can use only cash, cheque books and postal orders and have to allow 28 days for delivery. And yes bring back the Aztec bar, Sunday closing, 11pm licensing laws and proper phones with the circular dialing thing (the ones that live in the hall and go tring-tring not give some electronic rendition of lift muzak and which mustn’t get used after 9pm)!!

    I, however, will be keeping my Kindle…

  6. Helen Martin says:

    I know it is a matter of choice and that kindle is a wonderful invention, especially for those who travel, but as one who couldn’t get her cell phone off airplane mode and still can’t enter numbers into its phone list I would be hesitant to try a kindle. Can you read a book as often as you like? I know libraries have limits to the number of times they can be loaned. Does there have to be a support system to keep the books available or do they disappear if a company goes out of business?
    Take a look at that keyboard up there, people. The board is reduced to three rows from four by doubling up the whole board instead of just the top row and we assume that the (FIG) key switches things to figures – or does it switch everything the way (cap lock) does? Interesting.

  7. Vivienne says:

    Once you have a book on Kindle it’s there for as long as you want. You have to actively ‘archive’ it and even then, as you’ve bought it, it can be resurrected. Just like a mobile phone, there are lots of stuff you don’t have to use. I don’t highlight, make notes etc I just tend to read. Definitely worth having for travel, just protect screen so it doesn’t break.

  8. davem says:

    I still enjoy my Kindle and my approach is the same as yours: read four or five at once, switching between them, and buy the best ones again in paperback or hardback.

    Overall I prefer physical books and still buy them all the time – it is possible to enjoy both worlds without castigating either.

  9. John Griffin says:

    Kindle app on tablet very useful for reading lots I wouldn’t see or even buy. However I always buy books I really want in hardback – like Wild Chambers. All my Bryant & May are in hardback.

  10. Dylan Lancaster says:

    I’ve only recently got a kindle fire. I buy the books I love in book format still and use my kindle on the train. I’m reading twice as much and I think that’s a good thing.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you Vivienne. If I ever master my silly phone (can you mistress things instead?) I will consider a kindle since I agree that they are ideal for traveling – even if the countryside is interesting.

Comments are closed.