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.
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?
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.
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.
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.