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?


6 comments on “No, We’ve NOT Fallen Out Of Love With E-Readers”

  1. Jack says:

    I mean I think it really depends. At home, I really prefer to read a printed version of a book. It’s just a better feeling sitting in your chair and reading a book under the new table light. But then on the other hand I think it’s way more practical when you go on holiday to just take your e-book with you. Or if you are on the tram on your way to school or work. In my opinion both should complement each other…

  2. DC says:

    There are many “Pros and Cons” to the argument and they have been well examined over the years.
    For me there are two main reasons for preferring ebooks:

    1. Availability. I can read any of my books anywhere and at any time. If I am stuck somewhere unexpectedly I can get through a few pages, even though I don’t have a paper book or a Kindle to hand. My phone is always on me.

    2. Accessibility to the unusual. There is a huge range of old books, in public domain freely, available. I’ve read and enjoyed a few things, I probably would not have touched otherwise.

    I’ll add a third and related fourth…

    3. Sometimes you find a book in electronic format, that is no longer in print. You may well find it in a charity or second hand bookshop but searching for such things is just easier in an electronic store. For less popular tomes, ebooks don’t have the issue of limited print runs.

    4. In a similar vein, the cost of entry for an aspiring author is considerably less. Sure you get a load of dross but just sometimes a new raw talent can be uncovered. Perhaps it is right that anyone who feels they have a book in them should be able to publish it, even if it has limited appeal or merit.

    Since I am showing myself to be numerically challenged!

    5. I buy and read more books, now I have an e-reader.

  3. Charles says:

    I disagree with your statement that “Kindle won the device wars.” That’s like saying Microsoft won the PC war, or Samsung won the smart device war. It’s hogwash. For one thing, it’s not a war. Plus, the fact that they have the largest market share does not diminish the fact that numerous other companies are still strong competitors and produce perfectly fine products.

    For one thing, in certain areas of the world, like Canada, you can’t even buy a Kindle without going way (and I mean WAY) out of your way to find an obscure shop that sells them, or ordering them online. Nearly every store sells Kobos, and only Kobos. Anyway, Kobos are great, and it’s a Canadian firm. I have a Kobo Aura, and I love it. Also, Kindle does NOT support the digital ebook lending systems that most Canadian libraries use. Kobo does, however, and I get many of my books from libraries (the rest I get from Gutenberg–I’ve just been reliving my childhood by re-reading all of Jim Kjelgaard’s great wildlife stories.

    (Also, the white-on-black text is not limited to print books. With a few minutes of tweaking, my Kobo can do that too.)

  4. admin says:

    Hi Charles; I was talking about the UK, not Canada. I did try a Kobo here, but didn’t get on with the website (maybe the experience is better where you are).

  5. BangBang!! says:

    I don’t have an e-reader but my wife does and I have an iPad so I can read on that. I’ve tried both, I really have but I just don’t like it. I don’t enjoy it and it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a book. That probably doesn’t make much sense. Perhaps I should stick with it and try to force my brain to accept it. I can see that there is a wealth of material out there that I could access, particularly out of print stuff. I’m 52 on Halloween maybe I’m past it!

  6. Philip Jackson says:

    I hope Mrs Pushy on the platform recompensed you for your loss?

    I’m definitely of the ‘as well as’ camp rather than the ‘instead of’. If anything, my purchasing of physical books has increased since purchasing a Kindle, although I’m hard pressed to rationalise the reasoning for this. As has been stated by others, e-readers have opened up a world of literature which was in danger of being lost due to the economics of supply and demand. As far as I’m concerned, there is room in my life for anything which will enrich the pleasures of reading.

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