It’s funny how often you hear comments like ‘Who uses these Kindles?’ or “I don’t know anyone who has an e-reader”. So who are these mysterious users of Kindles and electronic readers? Well, here’s a selection:
1) expats like me (I live in Barcelona). With a miserable luggage allowance of 20 kilos on most budget airlines, it gets more and more expensive to haul books overseas. ‘What about Amazon’s free delivery?’ I hear you cry. Well, that’s no good for…
2) people who live in small apartments. I don’t live in a sprawling mansion and so I just haven’t got space on my bookshelves any more. The solution is a Kindle.
3) people with reduced vision (this doesn’t include me). Reading is suddenly easy again as you adjust the display to get larger font. The magnifying glass is clearly also in peril from the e-reader.
4) speakers of other languages. Here in Barcelona, I see many more e-readers than in the UK. This partly a language thing. Catalan has a vibrant publishing scene, but many books are only released in hardback. As English speakers, we’re spoilt in that we know a paperback edition of our favourite books will always be along soon. Many readers of Catalan have to haul a hardback around with them if they want to read a novel on the Metro.
Like many bloggers, I’m an aspiring author. I always dreamed of having a nice paper volume of my work. My ambition was to look at the books on the shelf and turn the pages from time to time, and think ‘I did that’. Now it seems that that will never happen. My destiny is to produce electronic files. But is that so bad?
Every time change comes, people often mourn what has gone before. I once read an article from the early twentieth century where the author ridiculed the idea of giving up the vellum-bound tomes of his library in favour of paperbacks, which he saw as cheap, throwaway products.
Today’s paperbacks are much better quality than those of the 1930s, when generic designs ruled the day. As the new medium evolved, so did the quality of delivery. I suspect that the same will be true of e-books in the future. Few people today would opt for a hardback over a paperback, given a choice.
In any case, no matter what snobbery exists in favour of paper products, it’s clear that other writers are not too bothered about how their stories reach the reader. Recently, Harper Voyager invited submissions from aspiring fantasy and sci-fi authors. The reward was an edited ebook of their novel. In the mere two-week window of opportunity, they received no less than 4,563 submissions: http://harpervoyagerbooks.com/2012/10/17/the-submission-portal-is-now-closed/.
Personally, I’m really enjoying my e-reader and I have noticed that it has already changed my reading habits. For example, I’m re-reading Moby Dick on my Kindle. It’s a novel that I found exhausting on first read, especially when confronted by the mass of pages ahead of me (I am an inveterate page counter). However, on the Kindle I just concentrate on the page in front of me and don’t worry about what is to come. I also find the completion bar at the bottom of the screen strangely comforting. It already tells me that I am 3% of the way through Melville’s tale. 3%, and our narrator Ishmael hasn’t even got into bed with the tattooed harpooner Queequeg yet, let alone encountered Captain Ahab, the manager from Hell.
There’s also the dictionary built in to the reader, which is very handy when a word like ‘quahog’ pops up. Apparently, it’s a type of clam found in New England (useful for Scrabble, if nothing else).
So let’s not fear the e-reader. It will replace the physical book, at least in all but special hardback gift editions. It’s all part of the natural order of things.