About 12-15 years ago an issue of the now defunct UK design magazine XYZ had a cover story confidently predicting the demise of the book within five years. I remember laughing at it, and I still do from time to time.
In the past few weeks, however, I’ve been reassessing my views on ebooks. I wouldn’t read a book on my computer screen, and hate having to read long manuals that way, but I have quite enjoyed reading a novel on my Palm Tungsten PDA. It’s being released episodically by the BBC and is actually a book I have in its original paperback format but never got round to tackling. I’m not sure if it’s the small chunks or the PDA format that’s helping this time round, though.
I’ve had a Palm since the late 1990s and tried reading books back then, but found it difficult. I think the fact I now have a high contrast white screen helps. The only thing I’d complain about is the size of the PDA – I think something slightly bigger would be more conducive to reading large amounts of text, and more comfortable to hold in one hand. After I’ve finished this one I’m going to buy one from Amazon and see if I still like it.
However, one thing that strikes me is there’s not much of a price difference between paper-based books and ebooks. I would expect there to be a more substantial gap, particularly given the cheaper distribution and production costs. Quite a few of the top titles appear to be a similar, if not identical, price to their traditional format. For the “tipping point” to happen with ebooks, I think there needs to be a price incentive.
But I don’t think books will die anytime soon. You can’t mark pages or underline text, or write notes in the margin, or lend them out. And I can’t see myself enjoying rooting around in a second hand ebook shop as much as I do with the paper variety.
There’s something good about owning the physical object. My sagging bookshelves are a record of my reading in a way that won’t be possible with ebooks. It’s the same with digital music. iTunes Music Store launches in Europe next week, which will seal my date in the bankruptcy courts, but I think I’ll miss having the CDs, even though I now stream my music wirelessly to my stereo system from my iMac, or use my iPod, and so never seem to play a CD anymore.
BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts | UK publishers ‘ignoring e-books’: “UK publishers are ignoring a growing market for electronic books, or e-books, a leading e-bookstore says.
E-books are files which can be downloaded and read on a PC or a portable device such as a Palm or Ipaq.
‘Publishers in the UK have been much slower off the mark than publishers in the US,’ said Stephen Cole, founder of ebooks.com website.
Sales of e-books remain relatively small world-wide but Mr Cole said the ‘tipping point was imminent’.
Mr Cole said publishers in the US were committed to e-books but he had not seen the same level of backing from UK firms.”