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.