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.