Embracing the inner e-bookworm

One of the benefits of my fancy new iToy, I discover, is the not inconsiderable advantage of being able to get my paws on free books. Yes, that’s reading material of my very own for absolutely nothing. Zilch. Zip. Zero. And available, what’s more, from the comfort of my own deckchair without even having to go to the effort of getting to the library, dodging dottery old bats hunting for the large print Mills and Boon section and then finding that I’ve already read anything worth looking at and am left with a choice between Clive Cussler and Barbara Cartland.

It was ....... oh bugger the battery's gone

I was sceptical initially of the gadget’s usefulness as a high-tech book, given the relatively titchy screen size and the distinct possibility of the battery packing up just as the main character says ‘but there’s still one thing I don’t understand Inspector’ and all is revealed, but so far so good, I am pleased to report. What with reading matter, Zombie shooting games and Facebook all in a handy pocket-sized format, this summer’s hutsitting job could be a lot less mind-numbing than usual. Pity the Telegraph hasn’t managed a decent crosswords-and-Sudoku application – media IT types please note.

JC remains unconvinced of the merits of ephemeral e-books, preferring yellowing dog-eared science fiction priced at 50p a go from Camilla’s Bookshop in Eastbourne, and insisting that physical books serve a dual purpose in acting as winter insulation as well as literary entertainment. Personally I can’t help feeling that rockwool would be a lot more effective and we wouldn’t have to go to the effort of packing it and taking it with us every time we move. And while I too am quite fond of Camilla’s rather haphazard approach to book storage and sales, I’m even more in favour of books which he can’t leave lying about all over the house or (worse) file in the wrong places. I ask you, what sort of sociopath could even think about putting ‘The Irish Kama Sutra’ in the middle of someone else’s carefully catalogued psychology textbooks?

Camilla's. Or is it just JC's half of the bedroom?

I’ve been keeping a beady eye on this e-book business ever since it was first mooted however many years ago, since it has potential to be a compulsive reader’s wet dream. iPod for books – everything you could possibly want to read, everywhere, all the time! At the touch of a button! I’d pay iPad prices just for that, never mind all the video games/social networking/talking tomcat nonsense.

But while I’m quite pleased with my new widget and the fact that I can spend the summer reading Samuel Pepys’ Diaries without forking out any cash for the privilege, I’m not yet impressed enough to abandon the printed page and switch entirely to the ethereal purity of the e-book.

1. They aren’t necessarily cheaper. In fact on occasion they’re actually more expensive. Take George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’ series for example (JC’s example and not mine, I hasten to add) – £4.45 in paperback and £5.45 for the Kindle version, both from Amazon UK. I’m sorry, but if you’re not going to offer me a manufactured book made of real stuff then I expect it to be cheaper. It’s not like you’re having to make loads of them or truck them about or pay for dirty great lock-ups to keep them in, is it? And really, Amazon, why should anyone be tempted to buy your gizmo if on top of the initial cost they end up paying more than usual for their reading pleasure? Sort it out.

OK, this one's free, but let's face it, it needs to be.

There aren’t enough of them. To be fair, this is probably more a question of ‘there aren’t enough of them yet, what with the whole thing being a bit newfangled and all, but at the moment you’re well served for supermarket bestsellers or freebie classics and that’s about it. Which means you end up hunting through the Kindle/iBook store for whatever you’re after, failing to find it, then doing the same thing again in regular books. Not to mention comparing prices each time just in case they’re trying to rip you off an extra quid for the e-version.

It’s unnecessarily difficult to buy them. I can order a paper book from Amazon UK and they’ll happily send it to me anywhere from Azerbaijan to Zambia by way of Tonga and Timbuktu. (Although not Moscow because the Russian post office steals parcels. Or so I’m told.) But try and get your paws on an e-copy of Anthony Beevor’s ‘Stalingrad’ from a French ISP and you’re out of luck. What’s the point in that? Especially when all you have to do to foil their evil plan is change your physical address to somewhere in the UK (Windsor Castle or Wormwood Scrubs if you like – doesn’t matter really, as they’re never going to send you anything anyway) and you can have anything you like regardless of where you’re logging in from. I suspect they might get shirty about a French bank card, mind, though I haven’t tried that yet.

Russian post office. Doubling as a black hole, apparently.

You can’t necessarily read them. I can download iBooks to my iGadget, and Kindle books to my Kindle, computer and indeed iGadget (which would seem to be a bit of a fail on Amazon’s part – can’t see any smartphone users buying Kindles when they can have all the Kindle books anyway without bothering to buy the reader). But I can’t read an iBook on a Kindle or a computer and nor can I switch between Apple/Kindle/Android/laptop etc, or (probably most important) back them up easily onto another hard drive. I’m not about to tie my entire library to one particular gizmo manufacturer or risk it becoming obsolete when someone decides to dump all the existing software because the Next Big Paradigm Shift is on its way. Domesday Project on Laserdisc, anyone?

So while I’m more than happy to download free reading matter for the summer, it’s going to take a bit more work before I’m prepared to commit cash to an extensive e-library. Which is probably just as well, because the minute I can have any book I want in a standard transferable format straight to any reading gadget from wherever I happen to be, I might as well just set up a standing order made out to  A.N. e-Bookseller for  an amount equivalent to whatever I have in my bank account at any given time.

Actual books. Still ahead of the game 500 years later.

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About misplacedperson

Camping and snowboarding for a living. It may not be a career, but it's certainly a life.
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19 Responses to Embracing the inner e-bookworm

  1. Evan S says:

    Welcome to my world. I have to remind myself every day that buying an ebook for my Kindle is still [i]buying[/i] a book. And I’m a ski instructor for six months a year, so I can’t bloody afford it. I don’t want to estimate what it would cost to reproduce my library … but I love the Kindle. It’s not as good as having a proper book in your hands, but on the other hand it’s very transportable, particularly when you have to cross the Atlantic vaguely regularly.

    • Question is can you back it all up elsewhere? And if not, what happens when you drop your Kindle in the bath?

      • EvanS says:

        Now, I could be wrong about this but I think that having bought the ebook from Amazon they have it on your records – so if your Kindle is lost/stolen/dropped in the morning porridge you have to buy a new one (of course) but the books you have bought, you still own – and will download automatically to your new device when you have registered.

      • That would be nice. And with the added bonus of making Mr Jobby’s iCloud less fabulously innovative than he’d have us all believe.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I have a kindle and I buy very few books for it. I mainly download freebies so this is a Good Thing! You’re right that some ebooks are pricey. When I don’t feel like paying that much for one, I go for the paper version, usually secondhand. Ebooks are on the way in, but the changeover period is going to be very long, and each medium has a place. I love my Kindle for it’s convenience – I sit and read it when I’m stuck in the car waiting for late-running lycee bus, or silently praying for the kids’ judo class to end before my butt goes completely to sleep! But I like a real book for reading in bed, or the bath (to avoid the dropping in problem you refer to). I do a lot of book reviews for various websites and that’s quite tricky with Kindle books. They’re not easy to ‘flick’ through so I find I have to make a lot more notes as I go through than with a dead tree book, where somehow it’s easier to keep track of what was said where, and much quicker to find.

    • It’s all evolving before our eyes – I’m sticking to my late-adoption policy, which means everyone else can test drive the early versions and iron out the wrinkles. Definitely a need for a waterproof book-reading gadget though.

  3. Mark says:

    Ahhh there’s the comment button……

    Couldn’t agree more. I have Kindle software (free) running on a tablet PC. Great! Free books!

    But you think I want to pay extra for electronic ones? No way! Given that paper books get that way via being electronic in the first place, I think you’re having a laugh at my expense.

    Plus…. if someone nicks my book I’ve lost 6 quid but if someone nicks my tablet I’ve lost a few hundred. I have to be a lot more careful. That, actually, is a pain.

    • True. Plus all the books, unless you’ve got them stored elsewhere. Presumably we can stash them all in Mr Jobby’s iCloud, but I’m not about to get involved in that one quite yet.

  4. Dave Burrows says:

    it’s just not the same as actually having a physical book though. The feeling of it, the smell, the dog earedness of the copy of ‘The Bourne Trilogy’ (1400 pages and hard work since you ask) adds to the atmosphere of a real book.

    One of the visitors this winter brought a kindle and although he raved about it, it just wasnt the same.

    Right, I’m off to some PJ O’ Rourke bedtime reading. Great post.

  5. Sarah says:

    I download to my computer first, so all my books are backed up there. I only download old free ones though, so it’s no loss if they disappear.

    For ones you buy on Amazon, I think Amazon keeps a record and you can download them again any time if your device gets lost etc.

    • I had thought that might be the case, would make sense. One up on iTunes, whose help regarding loss of purchased tracks thanks to IT crisis was ‘You didn’t back them up? Ooh, bummer.’

  6. Claire says:

    No Telegraph don’t do Suduko but itunes games section do a good suduko including try and design your own. I have it and its very good. They also do a good Scrabble- another hut-sitting time waster!

  7. James says:

    There are ways around the whole Kindle/iBooks/some other e-book store and their mutual incompatibilities, which I haven’t tried, but that should strip the DRM out of your Kindle books and make them readable on anything – you end up with ePub files rather than the proprietary formats that Amazon/Apple/etc love.

    Googling for “unswindle” may pay dividends in trying to future-proof your library. Or end up with a huge mound of viruses on your computer. :-(

  8. ivan says:

    Ah, the joys of free e-books. I assume you have found Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page and if you are into SiFi there is Baen Free Library http://www.baen.com/library/

    It is a pity you have an iThingy because of the restrictions you will encounter. I have an Android tablet with a combined e-ink screen (the best of both worlds) that I can attach to my PC, by USB or WiFi, to transfer books that are organised by Calibre, a program that can change e-book formats, and with a little googling, remove DRM.

    One last place I’ll recommend is MobileRead Forums http://www.mobileread.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=50 they have free e-books and a forum fit iThingies.

  9. How do you lend a friend an e-book?

  10. farfalle1 says:

    We got the Nook from Barnes and Noble (probably not available in UK, certainly not in Europe) – and I love it. I can read at night in bed without disturbing my beloved. While we can’t purchase books for it while overseas (ie, not in US), we can download anything free. AND there are libraries that lend books. I’ve read about 6 that I’ve borrowed from my old US library. The selection is pretty marginal there, though. Nook lets you lend books to friends. I’m a retired librarian so it goes without saying (I should hope) that I love books. But I really love our Nook, too.

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