Monday, 30 November 2009

Brought to book with an 'e'


The e-book remained something of an enigma to me, until recently. I decided it was time to ask Santa for one. So I wrote my note and posted it to the North Pole, and made a mental note to leave a glass of milk for the thirsty reindeers for their festive visit to number fifteen. I knew Santa's elves would have to build the blasted contraption, and I could visualise the frustration on their faces as they grappled with this new technology. After all, it's a far cry from the wooden toys that the elves work on over the year.


For the lay person, the e-reader is a digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book. There are a range of models from the Sony reader to the Amazon Kindle...in fact the list is endless. But is the battery-powered device better than the printed word? I say no, some say yes.


My recent purchase of the new Iphone 3GS (note - takes up vital writing time!) revealed there are ample e-book applications which can be downloaded. I went forth into 'cyberphonespace' and obtained 'The Last of the Mohicans' which was free via an application. Most books are available at a cost and the e-book application works through the itunes facility. But while reading, I struggled with eye strain, and I kept having flashbacks involving sitting at my office desk. I felt I was working, rather than relaxing and enjoying reading as a past-time.


My main gripe with the e-reader is the loss of the feel of the actual book. It now becomes a mere image on the screen, and if you are an author, you will undoubtedly feel that you can't hold the 'baby' as such, in the way you would with a book proper. But one positive fact is that voracious readers can bring hundreds of books on holiday with them - just think how much space that would take up in luggage terms if you had the printed versions (100 cases maybe?) Reading in the sun though may be a problem given the glare that will affect the screen.


And what will a future libray look like? A mass of small portals attached to walls where you select what book you want to read (year 2030 perhaps?) and you sit there for hours. Or will a library simply be an online facility?


I've read a lot of reviews of e-readers and one point which seems to get the critics going is that the e-book is 'sexier' than a traditional book. Yes, this is the word they use. Not sure how they reach this conclusion, apart from the fact the electronic device is probably more slimline than the size 18 War and Peace.


Consumers seem to be embracing them and publishers are churning out the content, but I want to see my book printed on paper and I want to be able to hold it. A surprising fact I found out while researching this is that the Gutenberg Project (a mammoth effort to digitalise works, all of which are in the public domain) was formed in 1971! Before I was born. Wow. And I thought the e-book was a ground-breaking 2009 thing!

23 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

Interesting post, Gillian.

I can see how some people - um, non-authors,probably:) - might see this gadjet as sexier; i can see the appeal of, say, having a whole trilogy at your fingertips in one go.

Plus, a bit like the ipod versus CD debate, it certainly saves on a lot of space. But then i like to see books i have read littered around my house.

I spend enough time online without reading via the screen aswell.

Gillian McDade said...

Ipod v CD is a good comparison, Sam! As much as I love the ipod, CDs are a must-have!

CambridgeLady said...

I love the smell of a new book ..... and I often buy secondhand and love reading the notes people have made in the margins. I'm not ready to embrace the ebook just yet.

Gillian McDade said...

We have much in common!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Sexier? SEXIER???
Like using a vibrator is sexier than making love with a real human being?
(er, sorry)
Glad we feel the same way, Gillian.
Susiex

graywave said...

Gillian, I don't think trying to read on an iPod is going to give much of an impression of what this technology is really like. You should try to get hold of an e-ink device (like the Kindle or the Sony Reader) and try that. You can read them in full sunlight (in fact, as with paper, the more ambient light the better) the device is more book-sized and shaped (although still lighter and slimmer than a paperback) and the ergonomics of the device are atuned to page-turning, not to making phone calls.

I'm an author with my first book soon to be published in e-book editions *only*. I too will miss the feel of having my book in my hands (unless I go and POD a copy for myself) but I honestly believe that electronic publishing is a better way to go than trying to hang on to print.

You can read about my first impressions of the Kindle here: http://grahamstorrs.cantalibre.com/19/11/2009/my-new-kindle-ebook-reader-is-wonderful/ My wife, who is very conservative about technology and who loves books for the same sensual reasons you cite, took to the Kindle very quickly and now uses it far more than I do.

CarolineG said...

I was very interested in this, Gillian, because I feel instinctively put off e-readers, but am also a bit fascinated. I do think an iPhone sized screen would be just too small though. There is a certain appeal, mainly in terms of not carrying giant tomes on the tube! I am quite intrigued by your thoughts on the Kindle, Graywave...

Gillian McDade said...

Graywave - thanks for the info. I'm fascinated by your review - maybe if more of us would warm to it, we may actually like it!

Roderic Vincent said...

I was offered one for Christmas and had a look in various shops, but in the end I've asked for a tray instead.

There was an editorial in Literary Review recently that made the case that it would be bad for writers in the end as people expect to download stuff for free. They listed various sites that are already offering books to download without any charge.

It will be interesting to see how things go in the next few years.

debutnovelist said...

Gillian
I'm attached to the traditional book too for all the reasons you are, but I'm with Graywave here. I was given a Sony e-reader at work (a library) for the purposes of testing. I picked it up with great scepticism especially as I just hate reading from a screen any more than necessary - (a longish blog post is as much as I can manage without going into 'skim and dip' mode). However, I took to the e-reader straight away. The experience is nothing like using a computer (or, I guess, iphone) and I was soon zipping along, not even thinking about how the page-turning looks quite different - it just didn't matter. I still like reading a book, but would think this is a more than acceptable alternative. I'd love to try a Kindle as it has the advantage of direct downloads. If you read Nathan Brandsford's blog you'll see it's all taking off across the water. Only a matter of time for us, I think.
AliB

John Soanes said...

I just bought an eReader last week for some massive PDFs I need to read and review, and so far I'm liking it a lot - the 'e-ink' thing makes it less stressful on the eyes than a screen (and as a migraine sufferer, I'm keen to avoid anything that might bring on any kind of headache). I wonder if the main selling point will be that (as with my experience) students will be able to use such a device for reading (and annotating) text books, instead of lugging them around.
I don't think that books as we know them will vanish as a result of these gadgets, but they have some uses - and in all honesty, until the price of eBooks comes down to a much lower level, I can't see them competing directly; the downloads of current books often cost as much as, if not more than, the actual tomes, and there don't seem to be many 3 for 2 offers...
Sorry, didn't introduce myself: hello, I'm John. How are you?
J

Samantha Tonge said...

Hello John, welcome to Strictly.

Valid point about students.

It'll be interesting to see if it does herald the end of books as we know them. A branch of WHSmiths recently said they were no longer going to stock CDs as everyone was downloading music. But then, like you, i just can't imagine books ever vanishing.

Gillian McDade said...

Can any of your e-enthusiasts recommend a particular model then? I haven't written my list for Santa yet ;) I suppose I can give it a go!

John Soanes said...

I bought a Sony Reader Touch, which has a touch-sensitive screen and enables you to annotate your documents (as well as eBooks, it deals with PDFs and Word documents), but the Sony POcket reader is cheaper and probably more appropriate for general use.
Whilst the wireless aspect sounds clever, I didn't go for a Kindle because of the time it'd take for shipping etc, and the rather more limited formats it can read (Amazon's e-book format, and ... er, I think that's it). And in all honesty, the fact it's only available in white put me off (yes, yes, I know...).
J

Barb said...

May a first-timer comment? I'm with Graywave in this discussion. I waited, read reviews, held a friend's in my hands, and finally bought. I love the Kindle - it's very user-friendly, travels well, "clips" articles from papers that I want to send to friends via E-mail, has a built-in dictionary, and, best of all, is so light that it can be held one-handed while reading in bed. Turning the page is a press of the thumb.

Remember: It's not the paper, it's the words that matter.

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for the info, John. That's very true Barb about the words! But part of me feels my own 'e-book' (if it wasn't in book format) would be nothing more than a glorified manuscript (?)

Derek said...

Reading a classic or even a bestselleris one thing but how many of the people posting today would buy an eBook novel from an untried author?

Back in the mists of time, I had a publishing contract for an eBook of my fantasy novel. In the end, it never came to be but I still wonder wonder just how many people would have read a 140,000 word novel on screen. Does eBook publishing open up a new market for us authors or merely dilute the old one?

debutnovelist said...

Hi Derek
I don't know that it's a case of 'either or' with your expand/dilute question. Has itunes expanded or diluted sales of recorded music? I think it has simply provided an alternative model for marketing and distribution which has raised issues of its own. We need to be aware that this model may be favoured by some peope for books as well as music. It may one day even be the only model for publishing, but I think that's a long way off.
As to whether I would buy a first time author in e-format, the format is not the issue - if I want to read it (and that is due to marketing and publicity, or maybe recommendations) I want to be able to buy it in the format of my choice.
Great to see this issue getting a good airing!
AliB

Gillian McDade said...

I'm glad this has generated debate, because I now see both sides of the argument! I'm still undecided though :(

Derek said...

Thanks AliB, I was having this same discussion with my nearest and dearest, Anne, this morning. I think format IS important.

If I have a novel published (on that great day), I can pop down to Waterstones and independent shops and promote the book, convince them to get some / more copies in. I can secretly put my book to the front of a shelf. I can mention the book shop in conversation. Can this be done with an eBook? I am not against eBooks as a format but I see more disadvantages to authors than advantages, when compared to printed books.

KatW said...

I love techno gadgets but for me they'll never compare to the touch, feel and look of a paper book. The coldness of technology for me ruins the experience. Not to say I wouldn't play with an e-book as an extra. But the thought that paper books could one day become extinct fills me with dread. In fact the very idea has left me needing a lie down.

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