No, We’ve NOT Fallen Out Of Love With E-Readers
Today’s Independent runs a piece by Caroline Corcoran suggesting that the world is falling out of love with the Kindle. Although she makes some good points, beware the journalist with the ad hominem argument. And beware the Fox News approach of substituting opinion for fact.
In this case, the facts are few; a study (we don’t know whose, which is usually a key factor in the way it goes) suggests that those who use e-readers have a lower plot recall, credited to a lack of “solidity”, ie. when you can’t see the physical pages growing and shrinking, the book is somehow less real. And the Bookseller conducted research that found nearly three quarters of 16- to 24-year-olds preferred print to e-books because they use bookshelves to decorate a room and define themselves to others.
This many have more to say about the temporality of the internet than books. ‘Books furnish a room’ – well, yes, to a point. But to suggest that a bit of hearsay is enough to prove that e-readers are on the way out is absurd, partly because it’s not an either/or situation;to be a Kindle user you need to be a regular book reader, and readers also buy print books.
When e-readers first arrived they were treated (like the iPhone) as a miraculous glimpse of the future. Print is dead! screamed the headlines – and the excellent if hyperbolic Mike Cane (sometimes of this site – read his blog, he’s very excitable and fun). What followed was a shakeout and a rebalancing of what we want from books.
Kindle won the device wars. Although hideously ugly, it was easiest to use and had the best download site. If there had been any justice the Kobo or Sony devices would have won, but they (especially Sony) were tied to awful download points.
I quickly went through six different devices (broken in a variety of novel ways, including most recently, knocked out of my hands onto the track by a woman shoving to get on a train) but settled on the Kindle Paperwhite rather than the Fire because I find the Fire’s light adversely affected my vision. The Paperwhite has a gentler light that’s better for hardcore readers. And for a while, like Corcoran, I stopped buying books altogether.
So print publishers upped their game.
The UK version of ‘Nyctophobia’, for example, has a clever lead-in printed on black pages, and spot-gloss on its bright cover (the US cover is less colourful). Before e-readers this would simply have appeared as another plain paperback. The most elaborate example yet of a print book bouncing back in a bookshelf-attractive form must be ‘S’ by JJ Abrams, which is also, unfortunately, unbearable to read – the idea is that the margins are scribbled in by two other readers who have fallen in love with the book and each other, except that no-one in their right mind would fall in love with the dreary book at the core of the story.
Ann and Jeff Vandermeer produce some of the finest-looking genre books ever published in the USA; they are simply groundbreaking in their design and highly desirable to own – even though I ended up buying their anthology of weird fiction on Kindle because it’s impossible to carry about. There’s a new Kindle coming, the Voyage, but it’s basically slightly souped-up version of the Paperwhite with a flush glass screen and a shape that fits better into your hand, and it’s a tiny bit thinner. Worth the extra cost? Probably not.
So, after the shakeout, the rebalance – yes, there are now holes in my bookshelves (a good thing, as I was drowning in books) but there are also 76 unread books on my Kindle. The rule is, if I like the look of it I buy the print version, if I just want to read it and save money, I buy the e-version. And that works.
We know books look and even smell nice, but there are other reasons for choice. Experiences, please?