Monday, 9 July 2012

'Real' Books and E-Readers - An Opinion!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a question on Twitter - if you were stranded on a desert island and could only take one book, what would it be?

The range of answers was vast (only 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'The Lord of the Rings' appeared more than once), but it was also interesting that a couple of people said they would take their Kindle. When quizzed about the battery, and lack of electricity on a desert island, it seemed that solar power would be the answer!

But this amusing 'cheat answer' led me to consider some of the intrinsic differences between e-readers and the real thing. It seems that e-readers provide a service, in much the same way as a Sky box does with television. And, like with the satellite receiver, if there's no power, there's no service! A book, on the other hand, is an object in and of itself, and stands on its own merits, not reliant on anything else.

Which leads me on to what is perhaps wrong with the 'bricks and mortar' book-selling industry at the moment, and why it is losing so much ground to its electronic counterpart. If we think of a book as an object, then we should expect something of quality for our hard-earned money, and not just in its content, but in its presentation and physical appearance too.

As the founder of the Hay Festival, Richard Florence, said recently, "I think it's impossible for anyone in Britain to argue for the artefact of the book because we just make c**p books."

And I think he's probably right - for if we see the physical book as an 'object of desire', perhaps the one true advantage it has over its e-book version, then it stands to reason that it should actually be physically desirable, and this is sadly often not the case.

On a recent trip to Poland, I was struck by the high quality of the paperbacks on offer. The novel below had a much better cover than its UK equivalent, with a vivid 3D effect, and flaps on the front and rear as you would find on a hardback book here. The quality of the paper used throughout was also streets apart, and it was not just in this novel, but in every single book I saw!

I'm not sure if it is due to the high physical quality of books on offer, but e-readers are not catching on in Poland (or, indeed, in many other parts of Europe and the wider world) as they are in the UK and the US. Circumstantial evidence perhaps, but food for thought!

I am not against e-readers or e-books at all, but if publishers and booksellers want to know how to get people back to buying 'real' books, the answer is simple - MAKE THEM MORE ATTRACTIVE, AND OF HIGHER QUALITY!

People will then see them as something to 'own', perhaps for a lifetime, rather than to just 'use' and then throw away.

I would welcome your thoughts on the matter!


  1. I have to agree with this. I also reckon it would be nice if purchasing a real book automatically entitled one to an electronic copy. Sometimes it's not convenient to carry real books, certainly not those which are treasured.

  2. I think that's a great idea! Waterstones might potentially start doing that with their new Kindle partnership deal, and maybe this will spread to other booksellers. Let's hope so!