/ 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???

Adults And Kids Only

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:
29 July 2010

One of the greatest pleasures in life is the excitement of starting a new book. The feel, smell, design, print – everything contributes to the content of the book. The second pleasure in life is going into a library (there are public libraries still) and browsing all the books you would like to read. Books on shelves at home too give pleasure and impart knowledge and I sincerely hope they will never become redundant. Having said all that, I can see when one would use e-books. Travelling with an e-book reader would be good and being able to enlarge the print for people with bad eyesight also useful and anything that encourages people to read is excellent. However, technology does have its drawbacks, batteries fail, components stop working – I imagine the shelf life of an e-book reader will be a lot less than the printed page. I do read more than one book at a time, it depends how I feel and what I am reading the book for. I think we need both – perhaps libraries could offer an e-book service for people going on holiday or instead of the large books used for people with challenged eyesight.

I find it hilarious that Amazon have announced that people buy more ebooks than hardbacks. Are we supposed to be impressed by that? Hardbacks used to be viable in the days of bookshops, especially since they were available a significant time before softbacks. Now publishers only produce ‘vanity’ hardbacks, to sell to libraries and give to reviewers – consumers (in general) only buy softbacks.

Especially when you consider that Amazon thrives on the long-tail, recommending other books, it’s hardly a surprise that people choose the cheaper softback above the more expensive hardback when they’re listed next to each other on Amazon’s site! In fact, all this points to is the fact that consumer don’t care a jot about longevity – they aren’t filling bookshelves with pristine hardbacks – they’re buying cheap softbacks then passing them on or chucking them out!

They might be expensive for what they are, but there’s certainly an appetite for them.

Stieg Larsson, the author of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ and ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’, has just won the race to become the first author to sell 1m ebooks on Amazon: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/28/stieg-larsson-1m-ebooks-amazon

Gerard Phelan says:
2 August 2010

Forget new books. Think about old ones like Jane Austin, the Brontes and Jerome K Jerome, the ones you always wanted to read but haven’t got around to it. You could pick up a couple of hundred from your local charity store for say 50p each or buy 50 brand new copies of a cheap edition at £2 each. OR for about the same price ( £109 ) get the new Amazon Kindle at the end of the month and download them all for free from Project Gutenburg. Instead a a large stack of books, you have them all in a slim book sized box with room for hundreds more. That is what I am inclined to do – I won’t buy e-books, but I will buy space on my floors (the bookcases are already full.) The only thing that might cause me to hesitate is wondering about how beautiful an ebook reader based on the full colour Mirasol display will be? http://www.mirasoldisplays.com/

Paul Ansell says:
8 October 2010

I’m about to take the plunge and buy a Kindle for exactly the same reasons as those put forward by Gerard Phelan. I love the feel and look of books but it’s a question of shelf space. Also the ability to get any established classic almost immediately and for nothing appeals no end. One reservation I do have is that this is another nail in the coffin for our lovely high street bookshops, but, before too many more years have passed, I imagine resisting ebooks to protect the bookshop will seem the same as resisting central heating to protect the chimney sweep.

I think both formats can survive side by side. I’ve not used ebooks but would consider doing so if I could read books I had no wish to keep for a lower cost. I will always want to collect certain books, and a home without any on display would be unacceptable to me. Also, what about signed copies? I don’t think an electronic signiture will be at all attractive!

Prehaps each format will enhance the other by introducing new readers to the wonderful world of the written text. People who at present do not buy books might try an electronic version and become hooked before going on the experience the joy of owning a ‘real’ book. Avid readers might use ebooks to widen their reading and try new authors or genres that they would not consider buying in book form.

Too positive a view? Well possibly, but I don’t think this marks the end of the printed word.

I’m an avid real book reader – but limit my books to paper-backs – except for reference volumes – I have around 3000 – enough to re-read a book every 10 years without being bored. I still buy some paperbacks normally from Ebay – they are new or nearly so – the range is enormous – often post free and far below the retail price.

The local charity shop is also worth a browse.

Haven’t yet seen a good reason to go electronic – two or three paperbacks are sufficient to take on holiday and weigh under a kilo.

I certainly wouldn’t pay £10 for an e-file – no texture – no romance.

Pappy says:
16 December 2010

I have a Kindle and use it for work documents (which saves no less than 50 pounds of weight back and forth to the airplanes I work on), random guide books and recreational reading and it has saved an insane amount of space in my luggage and while people don’t read books by the thousand, you have the ability to have your entire library at your fingertips.

I also move a lot and during my last move I filled up three boxes of books, both hardcover and softcover and the movers were not fans of these boxes. When you add to that the weight limit my job imposes on household moves, losing all these books in favor of a Kindle is just a smart thing to do.

And it’s cheaper. I’ve kept a log of all the books I’ve bought from Amazon and their cheapest price in physical form at the time of purchase. I bought the wifi+3G Kindle 3 and a $40.00 case for it and as of today I’ve spent $276.75 on Kindle books that would have normally cost me $361.19. That’s a saving of $84.44 and I’ve only had the Kindle since September 16th of 2010.

At first I thought it was a little more awkward than a paperback but still significantly easier than a thick hardcover but after reading a few books, the Kindle feels easier and I’m able to read books much more easily (adjusting the font size as the day goes on and my eyes get tired).

There’s a flaw in the Kindle that I’ll admit though and that’s the PDF support. Though it has a PDF reader, it’s usually not the best nor the most clear with a horribly cumbersome navigation if you decide to zoom in to increase the font.

But once you download the free program Calibre you can move the PDF format to Amazon’s and get the same font-changing perks of any other Amazon book.

Also, Judith Kramer, there’s a free email address to send documents to that you won’t have to pay for. You should tell your friend that the instructions are in the included Kindle User’s Guide. The problem I had with this is that the files are usually too big to email in the first place, so if they have a computer and you’re willing to help, download Calibre (which is easy to use) and modify the files he needs to Amazon’s format and then transfer via USB and it will be free and much easier to read.

I hope this helps.

And I understand the romantic nature of a book and the perks are certainly there. I think if you’re a physical book kind of person you’re never going to really want for new books to read (unless more exclusive books are going to be released) and the people that like eBooks should be much more pleased than they were two years ago with the selection of books that are coming out. Pickings were slim in the not-so-distant past. This is just a situation where you have to look at what’s most important to you. For me, I wanted to bring a lot of books with me to read recreationally, I wanted the guides that I reference and I wanted all of my work documents. I also wanted to cut down on the clutter in my house and reduce the weight of my household belongings and the Kindle was able to do it all.

While it may not be for everyone, it was certainly the right choice for me.

Greg Garrard says:
16 December 2010

I’m an English lecturer, but I live on a boat. Every square inch of wall space is already taken up with bookshelves, and I have piles of books everywhere. Of course, I have a huge emotional attachment to books as physical objects, but I’m never likely to run out of them! So a Kindle has been a boon to me: I can get books I need for my research in seconds rather than (yawn) days; I can use only chapters I need without having the whole book cluttering up the place; I can take as many books with me as I like when I travel / hike (my wife and I took at least a kilo of paper each on our last hike, negating the point of all that pricey lightweight camping gear); I can search for names or words; and – most brilliant of all – I can highlight quotes and download them to my laptop for later use without having to copy them out. It’s lovely to read, the battery lasts for ever, and it’s cheap enough to take on holiday etc.

Cons? Well, I thought PDFs, but a post here has suggested Calibre download – thanks! And it’s a bit ‘buttony’ and old-fashioned feeling (as in 1980s, not 1880s). Getting around a book is a bit slow and clunky for my hyperspeed, Apple-habituated brain. Oh, and I knackered the screen by popping it in a bag full of clothes – so number 2 Kindle (replaced without demur) has a funky Econique cover.

Overall – love it.

S Shortland says:
30 January 2011

I have a Kindle and it is amazing. However, it doesn’t mean that I don’t read printed books. Of course I will still read books that people give/lend me. But for holidays the kindle is inavaluable. My husband and I like crosswords, which often necessitates dictionarys and Thesaurus, not to mention the Bible and Shakespeare. So on holiday we were often stumped. I now have all of these on the Kindle – so no more.
I also refuse to pay the high prices for best sellers, and am looking for a forum to express my distatse of what the publishers are doing by setting high prices. it is a travesty considering there are such massive savings in print and distribution costs.
I was a little shocked as when I first looked at the kindle the prices were not so high, now I have one I have jsut bought books that are reasonable or free.