/ Technology

Ebooks – no contender for the paperback

Pile of books

The final chapter for the printed book is about to be written as ebooks do to books what the CD did to the LP. Only, someone forgot to tell the humble paperback.

Despite the incredible rise of digital ebook stores and portable ebook readers, like Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, the printed book is far from dead.

If you’ve ever curled up with a decent novel or consulted the wisdom of a dictionary, you’ll know the printed word has an astonishingly timeless – and practical – quality. Requiring no battery or user manual, the printed book is the pinnacle of portability.

Sharing a book is instant. No downloads, no compatibility issues. Drop a book in a bath, and you’ve wasted a few pounds – take the iPad for a dip, and you could be looking at nearly half-a-grand of pain. That’s a lot of Agatha Christie.

Ebook fans fight back

But, say fans, because trees aren’t felled and printing presses are silenced in producing expensive paper books, ebooks will be cheaper. Plus, lightweight readers can store thousands of books.

Only, people don’t read books by the thousand. With music I dip in and out of individual songs across albums – and I’m more than satisfied to listen to an album again.

Not so with an ebook. If ebooks are the equivalent of albums, then chapters are their songs. And unlike listening to a random playback of songs, I don’t know anyone willing to randomly read chapters across a range of books. Try it sometime; I’m sure it’ll be an experience.

Instead, we read books from start to finish. Then we share them with friends, or donate them to charity shops or park them on shelves. And, we tend to only have one book on the go at once – so the need to cart around an entire library of books is mystifying.

But what about pricing?

Ebooks, surely, are cheaper. After all, we don’t print them; the price for each digital copy is tiny. But, by buying a reader and parting with several hundred quid for a digital bookshelf, you’ve told the ebook makers that you have money to burn.

Instead, expect to pay more – a lot more in many cases. Which? has found ebook pricing can be more than twice the price of the exact same book in print in a local bookstore.

E-readers, as long as they insist on being expensive, non-compelling wannabe books, are still floundering in the footnotes. Until prices tumble, my local charity shop will continue to benefit from my finished summer blockbusters.

Han says:
14 July 2010

Im against ebooks in principle – but have to admit to never having tried one… but if you feel like I do would you ever go to the dark side? I doubt it because you wouldn't buy something you didn't like the idea of… lending libraries for e-book readers anyone???

SuperTrouper says:
15 July 2010

I much prefer to buy books, it isn't always possible – I have downloaded a lot of books in pdf format, which would have been be very, very expensive to buy – storage can be a problem too, books take up so much space and are generally heavy.

That said, I do occasionally buy books….and I especially like reading books in the bath!

Sandie & Gray says:
15 July 2010

Ebooks are a brill idea but only if the price is comparable to off the shelf books. Imagine going on holiday with just the equivelant of a good size magazine and yet with the storage or access to a library.
My elderly Mother found so books too cumbersome and difficult to read due to their weight and the holding back of pages, but an Ebook resting on a suitable bookrest – so easy and so much more comfortable. Roll on Ebook accessablity and price

Alan Gilbrook says:
15 July 2010

I'm sure that charity shops and like derive some income from second-hand books. I wonder what effect e-books will have? Will folk hand them in like CD's?


My friend whose eyesight is failing hasn't been able to read a book for some years. He was given a Kindle recently and is full of enthusiasm as it enables him to adjust the font and read in any light, at any angle. He hoped it would help him to read working documents, but there's a fee if the reader needs a different size font, which makes it prohibitive, and is considering one of the alternatives with more flexibility.


I think e-books over complicate something that has worked for hundreds of years. I love the feel and smell of a new book. Perhaps I'm just a nerd but I think e-books make the whole process a less interactive experience.

Richard Kinley says:
22 July 2010

E-books are never going to replace paper books. How could they? Can they replicate the feel of a book in the hand? Plenty of people like books as physical objects, rather than simply repositories for words, and I don't see any prospect of this changing.


Amazon has revealed that sales of Kindle ebooks have almost doubled that of hardback books (180 ebooks to 100 hardbacks) – it seems to be a matter of convenience more than anything.

Julia Clark says:
24 July 2010

I have an e-reader which is great for travelling – I probably used half my baggage allowance in the past lugging books.
But the rest of the time I much prefer a real book. It is easier to read and a more tactile experience. I am more likely to have absorbed the content. When I have read it I can lend it to others or donate to charity.

Diana Stevens says: