Monday, 15 February 2010

Electric verses

"Christmas 2009 was the time when e-book sales in America began to have financial significance," writes Clare Alexander in the Bookseller, and as someone who has recently begun to use a Kindle, I think I can see why. The convenience of being able to download books, newspapers and magazines instantly, without having to visit a bookstore, is certainly something new, and the lightness, clear display and portability of the device is also a factor that speaks in its favour. To be able to read not simply one book, but three or four simultaneously, without having to prop them up or otherwise support them (large volumes can be hard on the hands and wrists), is to me a definite step forward. Recently, when reading a biography of T.S. Eliot, I wanted to have several other Eliot-related books available, including the poet's own works, and on the Kindle I was able to do this neatly and without effort, switching between automatically bookmarked pages in different volumes. It's also possible to bring up Wikipedia while reading in order to check references. The whole experience is a bit like having a reference library in the palm of one's hand.

When the royalties question is settled and some kind of standardization takes place in the matter of e-book formats, I can see foresee that e-books could even come to replace the paper versions. Whether this development will be truly international or confined to the English-speaking world, it's hard to know at present. Certainly in Scandinavian publishing circles there still seems to be some resistance to the electronic incursion, but this may change as countries like Finland and Estonia, which have always been at the forefront of developments in information technology, begin to respond. It would obviously help if Amazon were to acquire a presence in the Nordic countries, and one wonders if that will happen any time soon.

2 comments:

  1. For me, reading a "paper" book and an "electronic" one is, esthetically, two different experiences. I love reading .pdfs, for example. It nice to have two versions of the same book: one "paper" book plus an electronic book. (Although "paper" books occupy space, so I prefer electronic books.)

    And, it's a shame Scandinavian publishing tuned down that Google agreement. I mean, to put it plainly, why bother look up a Swedish source when English language sources are freely available.

    In short, I am all for electronic books to come! :-)

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  2. Yes, it's probably best to have both the paper and the electronic version of a book - I'm struck, for example, by the fact that the Kindle doesn't have page numbers, just "locations", and there are other limitations of this kind (e.g. footnotes don't always show up where they're supposed to). Yet for me, the experience of electronic reading is very easeful and relaxing, much more so than the reading of "paper".

    In a few years' time devices like the Nook, the Kindle, the Sony e-Reader, etc. will probably seem quite primitive and will have been replaced by something more sophisticated. Or maybe the whole preoccupation with e-books will be a thing of the past. ;-)

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