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.