Turn the page: we should embrace eBooks

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.


  1. 1 Jun ’11 at 6:09 pm

    Champagne Conservative

    I’ve had a Kindle for months now. Use it almost daily. I still wouldn’t dream of using it when the possibility of reading a physical copy of the book exists.

    It’s not just a question of “being seen reading”, you tit- the sensation’s just *nicer* when reading from a paper page. The Kindle’s screen’s lovely and all, but it’s not *that* good.


  2. eBooks “on the whole” are less expensive, and everytime I download an eBook to my Kindle, I save money compared to the hard copy version. Ultimately this will cover the cost of the device itself.

    How are they less accessible? The 3G Kindle connects users nearly anywhere in the world to their bookstore for free. Google is weighing in on the eBook market too, and although they have yet to expand outside the US, when they do, they’ll do it right. There are also synching services via cloud tech allowing you to read on your smartphone, save the page, carry on your laptop, and then use you eReader for the way home if you wanted. Forgetting your book just doesn’t happen.

    If you’re looking for a specific book, eBooks and searching online is easier than looking in your local book shop.

    “Technical malfunction” – what? Like pages falling out? eBook readers are very hard wearing, deliberately designed so, and are more hardwearing than a normal paperback in my opinion.

    As for a cross-country train making an unschedules stop, these batteries last for months and months on constant usage. This is because power is only used to switch the polarity of the eInk capsules.

    Really don’t think you researched the negatives very well at all, as Champagne Charlie says, it’s more about aesthetics.


  3. Jonathan answered my questions because I was wondering where you got “more expensive” and “less accessible,” too. I believe ebooks and pbooks can coexist, just like CDs and MP3 coexist.


  4. 11 Jun ’11 at 1:58 pm

    mr. D. williams

    I agree with the author here, people who read books look like pretentious idiots. but saying this when I know I’m going to be on a train or a bus journey I always bring what people of lesser intellect would deem to be a intelligent book, for example: 1,000 leagues under the sea or maybe even a copy of the kabbalahh in case there are any impressionable girls on the same journey as me who would like a clever university student


  5. I remain unswayed