Believe me, I love the feel of a good book as much as the next man. As for the moving shelf paraphernalia in the JB Morrell north rooms, it’s difficult to guage my excitement. The romantic in me also can’t get enough of purchasing a second-hand gem, to find on the first page some sentimental inscription: “Sally, what a wonderful time it has been. Yours forever, Charles. Cairo, 1973”.
Yet I find nothing troubling in the huge growth of sales of eBooks. In 2009, eBooks only made up 1.5 per cent of total book sales in America, while in the first quarter of 2010 that figure had surged to five per cent. Similarly, in the four weeks of July 2010, Amazon was selling 180 ebooks for 100 hardbacks. The march of digital literature, therefore, is unrelenting.
And there are inevitable downsides to this readership revolution. On the whole, eBooks are more expensive, less accessible, and could be subject to technical malfunction at the worst of times, such as your cross-country train deciding to make one of those hilarious unscheduled stops in the depths of the Lancashire countryside.
The surge in sales is also making a considerable hole in the publishing market. Amongst eBook buyers, 25 per cent said they bought fewer books, with 15 per cent saying they bought none at all. The two markets, therefore, can’t co-exist, forcing an ever-widening void into the publishing market.
There are huge practical advantages though, which are not to be sniffed at. Instead of carrying your single scruffy paperback, your entire library can be at your fingertips. If you also decide, many miles from a Waterstones, that this really isn’t your favourite Dickens, then downloading one which will suit your mood better – even for a few chapters – is a genuine option.
The invisibility cloak of the Amazon Kindle helps us to do away with intellectual snobbery
There is something cloyingly artificial about those that protest “I do love the feel of the pages on my fingers”. It screams a self-indulgent love of loving to read, rather than a genuine pleasure. It seems to have become part of our society which is centred around its knowledge economy, reflected by the soaring numbers of people going into University education.
One inevitably feels they look really very high brow reading an archaic copy of the Baghvad Gita that had been bought in musty second hand shop, from someone that one felt looked the spitting image of their very own Mr Micawber.
The invisibility cloak of the Amazon Kindle therefore helps to do away with this intellectual snobbery. Dismiss me as the self-conscious one by all means, but books have undeniably always been symbolic. Here’s to the eBooks march keeping its momentum.