Electronic Books

Is  the printed book's six hundred year technological reign - surely one of the
greatest ever, about to come to an end? Is it now all Kindles and Ipads? Is
the great joy of the first visit to a bookish house where you can work your
way through bookshelf after bookshelf before lunch about to go the way of
the polaroid camera ?

Like most things of pleasure it comes down to taste. I have friend who only
reads on a Kindle. But I don't like it - the greyness, the fade and reform
of the page turning - and its size. It travels with me, but somehow always
manages to discharge itself and rarely gets read - only if the
printed word is missing or the Ipad has gone flat.

In contrast I love reading on my Ipad. The size is just right and the
quality and contrast of the lettering is as good as the best of printing. I
like the way the page turns - better than the 'real thing' and, above all,
I am sold on the back-lighting - you can set it to just the right level to
suit your eyes and it is God's own gift to the insomniac who shares a bed with someone;
no bedside light needed - you just pick it up, open it and read. With no
weight of pages to support, or direction of light to worry about , you can
lie on your side and read until sleep takes you away. Its not great in
direct sunlight - but hey, I live in England.

So everything to the Ipad? Novels - and for anything with a narrative arc where the
direction of travel is one way it is perfect. Where electronic  doesn't work as well
is with writing  that is for dipping into, history with illustrations,
science books or just about everything to do with the arts; here the book -
hard-backed, indexed and layered with photographs, still rules over
the digital version.

But there is also a growing hybrid area where multiple media are embraced by the electronic version.
For example, take the 'book' of Simon Schama's TV series on America. On the
electronic edition you can read Schama's prose, intersperse it with film
and audio clips from the archive and, when you have to get into a car, hear
Schama reading to you as a audio book. The publishing potential here is

Does this mean the death of the small bookseller - or indeed of anyone who
can only do dead trees? Hopefully not, as you can buy your electronic books
now through a website called hive.co.uk where you nominate your
local bookshop to get a cut of the  price. It won't just be Amazon who wins.

So back to the book on the shelf, the decorator of many houses where
the walls are covered with bookshelves rather than pictures. I doubt if I
will ever ask for, or be given, an ebook for Christmas. I may often have a
paper and an electronic copy of the same book - particularly novels where
my preferred medium is already the Ipad.

And for writers the electronic version has much to recommend it; after all the
key thing about an ebook is that a person buys it and reads it and can't
pass it on to his friend - as is so often the case with  the dead tree
version. For publishers there are probably more upsides than downsides.

For small book retailers - already under siege from not just Amazon but
also from the omnipresent Tesco and Waterstones, the future looks bleak but
could be turned around by the likes of you and me if we patronise them in the
proper sense of that word - visiting them and enjoying the
browsing, buying presents and asking for recommendations - and by using
Hive.co.uk for electronic books. And principally by believing that books are
a pleasure, not a commodity to be bought on price only. In the larger scheme
of things the difference in price between Amazon and your local bookshop is
less than a sandwich - which for something that will give you a week's
pleasure is not a lot.

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