“The information we’re given is much to scant to draw too many conclusions. So the best we can do is to draw on our own experiences, preferences and the imperfect understanding we have of the world. And, for some of us, a long memory of what it was like to be a young adult.
Books are never more important to us than when we are coming into adulthood. We may like and appreciate them more when we are older but they will never do for us what they did then. They were an escape from the world, from friends, family and strangers, whether we feared or loved them. They were a doorway into the world, too, the way in which we made sense of it, challenged it and even achieved victory over it, at least in our minds.
Each book was a new challenge, each book was different, even for those who never tested themselves beyond one familiar genre. And for all that to happen, the physicalness of the books was important. They need a presence to forge that bond. As they piled up beside the bed or on the desk or bookcase, even when we had finished with them, they were there when we walked past. We saw the spines and the covers and they reminded us of the experience we shared with them.
At that age, a book is like Aladdin’s lamp. You touch it, you open it and the genie inside comes out. An ebook is like the kitchen light switch in comparison. Useful enough but hardly magical.
It is nice and comforting to have a picture of a loved one but even when the face, caught in extraordinary expression in the right light or air-brushed into perfection, is more beautiful than the real one, it is never more true or never more powerful than the one that looks at you from the chair across the room. And so it is with ebooks. The words are all there, the ideas and thoughts are frozen in them just as if they were on the page, but they cannot reproduce the vividness of the book that waits and watches from the bookcase.
There is, for me, a difference in what I want to read in an ebook and what I want to read in a real book. I have a Kindle and an iPad that is used more for reading than any other task. But they tend to be filled with dross or books of little consequence or enduring pleasure. They are books that I probably enjoyed at the time but whose acquaintance I was pleased to make in passing. Those that I want as friends I prefer to have in both body and mind so I go and buy the lasting version.
I have a library, not just a collection of books I’ve read. Oh, it looks like a pile of books but its haphazardness hides its purpose. They form part of the character of the room, part of the warmth of the house, part of what I offer everyone who comes in. They, the visitors, can stand and browse the shelves. It is a special thing to watch someone come into your house and make their way across the ranks of spines, pulling one out, flicking the pages, pausing a moment before replacing that book and then stumbling upon another that beckons. And there are times when a book I’ve already read catches my eye and I take it from the shelf and read a few pages, remembering and still discovering, then put it back in its place.
Those who herald the end of the printed book have let their excitement at what might be ride roughshod over their appreciation of what is. I’m sure ebooks are here to stay but it won’t be as conquerors.”
A book is a book not a machine, says Beth, one of the winners of The Guardian’s young critics’ awards.
A book has a cover made of paper or cardboard full of pages, whether they be of photos, stories, diary entries or letters from a loved one collected over the years.
Books are like humans: each one is unique, they all have their own story to tell. They need a bookshelf just as we need a house. They can be ripped or torn just as we can break a bone. They can become famous like us. They are born and grow old like us.
A book is something that is read then laughed or cried about, then stored on a shelf until years later. Then it is taken out to be dusted and exclaimed about as it brings back memories of all the thousands of times you read it as a child. Perhaps it was under the covers with a torch praying your parents wouldn’t see the light or out in the garden on a summer’s day using the book to shield your eyes from the sun, flicking its pages beneath your nose to get that familiar “booky” smell.
Books can be made personal; bent, folded, marked by grubby hands. They can be doodled in and signed by their author at a book shop making a great day out.
Books like note pads, scrap books and photo albums can be used to store information. Books like newspapers and history books can be used to spread news or knowledge. A diary can be a companion through the tough times; a friend you can tell everything to in utter confidence. They are a way of getting it out of your system. They will listen for hours to your joys and moans and although they can not comfort you or laugh with you, you feel they understand. (Take Anne Frank for an example).
Books are things to be enjoyed or hated and shared among friends when you have loved them. They are things to be passed down in the family, not replaced when the latest model comes out (like a Kindle).
Books document history and memories. They have been here for centuries, as things to pick up in our leisure time – they help us to spend it pleasurably and then remind us of pleasures past. Hopefully they will be here for many more.
So, as I stare down at this device in my hands, my heart does not leap for joy as some people’s might at the thought of all that extra space in my suitcase and bookshelves, or money I will save. I do not marvel at its thinness and hardiness – that I no longer have to worry about rips. I do not enjoy being able to enter any “bookshop” and purchase any “book” at any time from the comfort of my own home.
No! Instead, when I look at the Kindle, I see only distant memories of many an hour in the book shop down the road, running my hands over shelves, selecting novel after novel. Then the shop closes.
The Kindle screen fizzes when, in a sad bit, a tear drops on to it. A book would absorb my tears like a human absorbing sadness, but this is a machine, rejecting my human emotions. We would never replace the human race with robots, so why do it with books?
Do you agree with Beth, or is your Kindle your new best friend?
Results of The Guardian’s poll:
Amazon.co.uk has said that sales of its Kindle ebooks are now outstripping its sales of printed books.
Underlining the speed of change in the publishing industry, Amazon said that two years after introducing the Kindle, customers are now buying more ebooks than all hard-covers and paperbacks combined. According to unaudited figures released by the company, since the start of 2012, for every 100 hardback and paperback book sold on its site, customers downloaded 114 ebooks. Amazon said the figures included sales of printed books which did not have Kindle editions, but excluded free ebooks.
In a surprise move in May, the company went into partnership with theUK’s largest bricks-and-mortar books retailer, Waterstones.
The company said its figures also showed that British Kindle users were buying four times as many books from Amazon as they were prior to owning a Kindle, a trend it described as a renaissance of reading.
“As soon as we started selling Kindles it became our bestselling product on Amazon.co.uk so there was a very quick adoption … [And they] are buying four times more books prior to owning a Kindle,” an Amazon spokeswoman said. “Generally there seems to be … a love of a reading and a renaissance as a result of Kindle being launched.”
Despite revealing that more than half a million Kindle books are priced at £3.99 or less, Amazon said a boost in ebook sales was not just about cheap books and argued that much of its printed range was also sold at a low price.
Ebook sales have been given a boost by the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, which has sold two million copies in the past four months.
Three of the top 10 most popular Kindle authors of 2012 – Nick Spalding, Katia Lief and Kerry Wilkinson – were published by Amazon’s own Kindle Direct Publishing.
Jorrit Van der Meulen, vice-president of Kindle EU, said: “Customers in the UK are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books, even as our print business continues to grow. We hit this milestone in the US less than four years after introducing Kindle, so to reach this landmark after just two years in the UK is remarkable and shows how quickly UK readers are embracing Kindle. As a result of the success of Kindle, we’re selling more books than ever before on behalf of authors and publishers.”
Well, as buyers of paper books know, purchasing and reading are two different things. What Amazon have is evidence of increased levels of purchase. Purchasing ebooks is easy, a matter of seconds: consequently, it’s more at the mercy of impulse. Reading, on the other hand, requires a serious commitment of time regardless of the medium. Won’t the temptation be much stronger to digitally hoard books that you mean to get round to reading one day?In a recent interview with the New York Times, Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, confessed that his Kindle was full of books he hasn’t read:
I keep sending new books to my e-reader, and I don’t know which one I’ll read next. Electronic books have become such an impulse and instinct purchase that I buy them constantly and can’t remember what’s on my e-shelf. When I do look, I often see titles I don’t recognize or don’t remember wanting or buying.
That sounds more like the truth.
Also the ability to read what you want, without having to worry about the cover giving your preferences away, is leading to a real change in reading habits. The Kindle and other ereaders allow this.
Fifty Shades is likely to be only the first of a stream of new stories, which more closely reflect our fantasies, our curiosities, and our renewed desire to be entertained by the written word as a result of these devices.
There are two sides to every story. Since the rise of ebooks, many traditionalists have fought long and hard not to see physical books disappear. But are ebooks here to stay?
- The old ways beat technology
- Some prefer them for their aesthetic value. A physical book tends to be more attractive and shelves of books are wonderful in any room.
- Even though the high street and local book stores and libraries is quickly being replaced by Amazon factories.
- Shiny glittery covers, thick wads of paper that look impressive, great page-turning interaction and that sense of satisfaction when you’ve finished it.
- Tumblr-ing pictures of your avid novel collections of shiny Percy Jackson or Twilight to your fan tribes, along with fan art, fan fiction and fan movies.
- Owning something concrete and tangible, that you can collect, fill cupboards and bookcases with and show off to friends is more important than the actual substance.
- You can see them on your book shelf. And you also can give them away, lend them to friends, or maybe bring them to the charity shop!
- Local libraries have thousands of free books too, not just public domain classics.
- Value for money
- An emotional connection to physical books.
- Ebook users are readers, they enjoy the storytelling, the characters, the plot, not the format in which they are reading. In fact, in that respect, I’d say eBook readers are the true book lovers.
- Text size adjustable on-the-fly for people with visual impairments.
- Text to speech function for people with visual impairments.
- Content replaceable for free in the event that physical container medium is lost/damaged.
- Amazon sells physical books too. In fact they’re the UK’s biggest seller of physical books.
- eBooks offer the ability to hear about a book and almost instantly start reading it. (No travelling or waiting for post etc).
- They are significantly lighter if you want to carry more than one book with you.
- There is a vast library of public domain classics to be had for free.
Depends on location: many agree if they were to go holiday, it is simply easier and more convenient to take an ereader than a bunch of heavy books in your luggage. Whereas if they stay home, they love building a physical book collection and enjoy reading physical books. For 16-24 year old readers, they’re less likely to want to read half a dozen books on a holiday, or to be moving a collection of many hundreds of books from one house to another.
What can be said is that books in their printed form are more resilient than other non-digital alternatives. I am not arguing that everyone should toss their books on a bonfire and embrace the digital. Both formats have their advantages and disadvantages relative to each other. I don’t see why print and e-books can’t co-exist. Should we not be grateful and pleased to see that people are still reading, especially young teenagers who have so many other distractions.
Either way, the joy is in reading.