/ Technology

Why I’ve turned the page on ebooks

Reading an ibook in iPad

With the arrival of the iPad, Kindle and other e-readers, could we be waving goodbye to the traditional paperback? I previously dismissed ebooks, but now you can officially call me an e-reader convert.

How times change. Back in July, I came out squarely against ebooks. I predicted that the humble printed word would show up ebook readers as expensive, awkward devices.

Ebooks were, I concluded, merely novel – but no replacement for the novel itself.

But now I’m on a different page, with my last 10 book purchases being digital renditions of their now outmoded print ancestors. And while some arguments still favour the printed book (cheap, sharable, lightweight and without batteries) I’m now a convert to the ebook cause.

Browsing ebooks by day and night

So why have I turned over a new electronic leaf? I’ve bought several novels for my iPad using Apple’s iBook store – Stephen King’s Under The Dome, and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity (excuse my literary taste).

I browsed and downloaded both from the comfort of my bed at midnight – a boon, as bookstores aren’t typically open at that time of night, and there’s certainly none that can be browsed wearing pyjamas. Downloads were instant, and the pricing reasonable.

The reading experience was also sublime, but it was the added technological advantages that swung it. After reading until the early hours, I opened the same book on my iPhone for my commute to work and was amazed to find that it automatically remembered where I was on my iPad, opening the book to the same page.

Seamless reading across devices means I can pick up either my iPhone or iPad and continue without flicking through to find my place – the equivalent of digitally folding down the corner of a page.

Ebooks are inspiring kids to read

But the bulk of ebooks purchased have been for my kids. The astonishing Dr Seuss books (think Green Eggs And Ham) and the wonderful Alice In Wonderland are brought to life in a breath-taking way.

Stories can be read, words touched, pictures interacted with – all adding a richness to the story that simply can’t be achieved with paper and glue alone. My six-year-old was captivated reading along, playing games, and doing something amazing – falling in love with reading.

There’s also a growing section of free books. From fledgling authors to out-of-copyright masterpieces that retain the same magic as the printed version. Access to thousands of free books is a tremendous democratisation of the printed word.

On a tour around Which? I’ve found a bunch of people using e-readers – from Amazon Kindles to iPads, Sony Readers to laptops. And I’m sure the trees are thanking ebook buyers as well.

Much like Last.fm broadened my exposure to new music, I’m now stalking the virtual aisles of Apple’s iBook store at all times of the day. My conversion may be a small footnote in the history of ebooks, but the future of e-readers could well prove to be a blockbuster over the coming years.

If Matt has convinced you that ebooks are the way forward and you’re ready to dive straight into e-readers, we’re giving away a 3G Amazon Kindle in our first Which? Conversation competition. Make sure to enter by Monday 8 November 2010 – and good luck!

toms says:
5 November 2010

It is pointless to argue about e-books in absolute terms; they are useful in many ways, but are unlikely to replace books soon.

There is a number of rasons why one would want to use e-books.
1 They provide access to books (particularly out of copyright ones) that are otherwise difficult, expensive and bulky. This is particularly true of foreign language texts.
2 They are portable; when I travel or ride on a bus or sit on a park bench I can have a library with me.
3 They allow searching in a text. That compensates for leafing through a paper book, though I sometimes still miss doing that.
4 (a recent discovery) They are easy to use one-handed. My wife broke her wrist recently and has taken to reading on my Sony reader, though she had always been doubtful about non-paper books.
There are few disadvantages I can see – the fragility of the readers is one, the poor reproduction of illustrations another. Perhaps a tablet like the I-Pad might deal with that, but I find back-lit screens annoying after a while.
I have been reading electronic texts for some twenty years now, partly by necessity, partly by preference, and the new generation of e-book readers has very much improved the experience. When I started to read on a computer screen I found that I had eye-strain after a couple of hours. My next device was a Psion (two different models, actually). There the problem was the darkness of the background and resulting poor contrast, but I over a couple of years I did read the whole of the edition Furnes of Balzac, kindly provided by the French National Library. I would not have bought that as books, nor could I have borrowed it in London. That is true of many other foreign language books. Project Gutenberg has provided me with many out of copyright titles over the years and continues to do so.
I now have two e-readers – a Sony PRS-600 and an Irex Iliad. The latter has a larger screen and, although it is slower and has poorer battery life, I prefer it.
Calibre, the free management software mentioned by another contributor, does everything one needs neatly and efficiently, much better than the Sony’s library software. It takes care of any format conversions automatically. That is not a minor point: some readers cannot use MOBI or Epub and PDFs can be a nuisance unless converted.

toms says:
5 November 2010

@ AnneE and Peter Colebrook

The format problem is easy to solve; I use the excellent Calibre
to convert file formats. If you try to load an incompatible file to your reader it will even ask you whether you want it converted to a suitable format.

michael Hedley says:
5 November 2010

Just bought my Kindle and agree with everything Matt said. It has completely changed my reading habits, I find I can read a lot more as the Kindle is so portable. It slips into most of my pockets easily so is becoming as indispensible as my mobile.

A quick aside. You can download a vast miscellany of free books in many different formats when you browse the web. There is a freeware program called Calibre which can convert these downloads into most of the current reader formats and apparently does a lot more which I’ve yet to try!

I bought one for Sylvia and she lent it to a friend compelled to lie on his back or side in hospital. Unfortunately he couldn’t get on with it.

I have a large library and buy a lot of books. Most of those I buy aren’t available on Kindle. I’m also a keen supporter of the Gutenburg project and download books from them onto my PC kindle.

I’d be happier with the kindle it there were fewer difficulties on reading text or on reading books with illustrations. [I downloaded the Fox-Talbot book about his discovery of photography and I saved it and read it with the illustrations – some of the earliest photographs ever – and then I tried to show someone else and the illustrations had gone. I’d prefer it if the site allowed easy searches by author or title or subject among the ‘free’ books. As it is they are in an order that makes it very hard to find something for the second time. I’m very reluctant to pay for the kindle version of a book since I don’t get the book for other people to read in my library.

Viv T says:
5 November 2010

I never thought I’d find a replacement for the book but I’m totally in love with my Kindle. It is small enough to fit in any handbag, doesn’t need me to hold it open when I’m not exactly in the middle and is much easier on my ageing eyes than the smallprint on most books. Tha charity shops willl lose out on my recycling but there is no way back for me now
The Amazon customer service is also excellent.If you have a problem they ring you back almost before you’ve finished typing in your number.

Barry says:
5 November 2010

I will stick to my printed books. If I drop one I can pick it up it is not broken. Can you do that with this new money making fad?
Can you take this new e-book reader and sit on the sand and and read without sand, dust and water getting in to it? You can with a book ,and if water gets on your book you can buy another one for a few £’s. How much will a new e-book reader cost you?

KenH says:
6 November 2010

Bought my Kindle about 2 months ago. I used to buy 4/5 paperbacks a week and the house was being overrun by books so it was space issues that first persuaded me to buy the Kindle. Now, I wouldn’t be without it. I have Kindle apps on my PC and Android phone as well so, wherever I am and whatever reader I am using, I can seamlessly pick up my ebook and put it down and always be at the right page.
The only frustration is that ebooks attract VAT, whereas paper books dont, so any cost savings from the electronic format are swallowed up by the additional tax. However there is the wonderful Project Gutenberg which makes out of copyright books freely available in many formats, including Kindle. So I am happily re-aquainting myself with all those classic books I intended to read but never quite got round to.

Roger. Thorpe says:
6 November 2010

I bought an e-reader about 2 years ago and use it regularly for holiday reading. I prefer to use books whilst reading at home; this approach strikes the right balance for me. From experience I have concluded that there is a place for both the written and the electronic word.

Ponte says:
6 November 2010

Got a Kindle some 4 weeks ago and I am delighted with the quality of the display and the choice of classics for free or very little. The only disappointment has been the text to voice conversion. It features a ghastly american male accent which totally ignores punctuation. Could Amazon please find an “English” voice synthetiser that respects punctuation? I fear for blindness in my old age and was counting on the voice option to continue to “read”…

John Pedley says:
7 November 2010

….and, although I can’t speak for Apple, the Kindle bookstore will supply you with a free sample of the book you are interested in, which you can read at liesure and if you want to buy the full version you simply click on the button on the end and you can carry on reading in moments.

…..but, oh for the day (if it will ever come) when you can swap e-books.

E-readers have previously been held back by black & white, but now a Chinese company is set to release the first e-reader with a colour E ink display. So it’ll have the battery life advantages of other e-readers (weeks not hours) and be in colour! Sounds good to me.


I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the courage to admit that I once thought that eBook readers were a replacement for the novel itself, instead of paper. Least of all if I was a Technology Editor. However welcome to the club, Matt Bath. Which reminds me of the many warnings of the dangers of reading eBooks near water.
Apart from the advantage of carrying around a huge library with you, almost instantly expandable, I have found the ability to look up the definition of a word quickly, invaluable. Also the search facility with the ability of underling and saving clippings, and making annotations are seldom mentioned as advantages of the eBook reader.
The initial cost of hardware is high, but the Kindle is now only just over £100, and it will surely come down further. The books themselves are now often cheaper than even the paperback version, as anyone can see on Amazon. I still read printed books if I can’t find an eBook version of it, as the main attraction is still the book itself, and the authors who write them.
Many of the negative comments are from people who don’t read much anyway – which of course suggests a different motivation for their comments.

EBook readers and eBooks are not Vat-free, because HMRC will always interpret existing legislation in their favour. Very often that means taking a literal interpretation, no matter how absurd the circumtances. You have to petition your MP if you want that changed, which is unlikely to happen when a government feels it needs to raise or save money.Which is nearly always.
As for government of whatever complexion ever actually trying to reform an inefficient organisation such as HMRC – Ha Ha Ha Ha.

Paul McGowan says:
9 November 2010

EBook stuff…… I am afraid. What happens when some one writes a book and does a lecture on same. To provide a finance for a good cause etc. Do electronic signatures on a chip at the end of a lecture count? I have a good collection of great books with outstanding pictures from the likes of Doug Scott and Chris Bonnington. Where are we going? I would say that they have there place in the training environment, to reduce paper waste. Lets have a slogan ” REAL PEOPLE READ BOOKS.” Surely that should cover the others that are generally plumbed into the 12V DC up to high optic levels.

Of course you are afraid – it is always fear which motivates comments such as yours. The author’s signature is more important than the book itself? They have “… there (sic) place in the training environment.” “Plumbed” into electricity “.. to high optic levels.”? You can certainly mix a metaphor.
Does a person who has read a paper book have a better understanding of it than a person who has read the eBook version? If you really think that, then let’s have a reasoned argument for it, rather than bluster of all your fears and trepidations. “Real people …” for goodness sake! Is a child or even an adult who cannot read not a real person?
But let me up your fears a little more – the market will decide. Not PR campaigns with slogans on what you reckon are real people.

You can now give ebooks as a gift for Christmas, at least for people with an Amazon Kindle. Like our competition winner missyhiggy! http://www.which.co.uk/news/2010/11/kindle-books-as-a-gift–237075/ Could this make ebooks a better gift than real paperbacks?