Amazon’s announcement that it is now selling 114 ebooks for every 100 print editions in the UK represents a turning point for reading and for the book industry.
The announcement coincides with the second anniversary of the release of the Kindle ebook reader in the UK. So, it’s possible that there is a certain element of gloss being added to numbers. But the fact remains that this is a milestone, and one that didn’t take long to achieve compared to other markets. (According to Amazon, the same penetration of ebooks took four years to achieve in the US.)
It represents a real success for Amazon’s ereader, the Kindle. But the success was only possible because it’s the right technology at the right time. Switching to ebooks right now is actually good for your reading.
My experience is based on three months of reading ebooks on a Kindle Touch, and if my conversion from print to ebook format is in any way typical, then paper formats are on the slide towards being a footnote in the history of reading – on the shelf next to papyrus and one shelf up from stone tablets.
Until recently, I was a borderline Luddite when it came to ebooks and ereaders. I like books, the feel of them, and the smell and the look. I like the way you can just peel a book open and start reading, or flick backwards and forwards through it. I won’t start on the topic of browsing in bookshops – there’s nothing like a trip to Blackwell’s in Oxford, or any of the major branches of Waterstones.
But the strengths of the printed book format are also it’s weaknesses. The delivery of a work of fiction from the mind of an author through staggeringly complex and inefficient publishing and distribution methods all the way to the reader is a process that crying out for change. Ebooks, tied to delivery mechanisms like the Kindle store, are an irreversible step, and the rate of change can only accelerate.
So, what is it that makes ebooks good for your reading? Here’s a selection of reasons:
1. Ebooks are available in almost endless variety
There are limits to the number of titles a bookshop can hold. That’s just not the case with ebook formats. The choice of what is available is now up to the reader; the gatekeeping roles played by publishers and booksellers are greatly diminished. There are pluses and minuses to this – limiting choice can be a very useful service. But on the whole, its a good thing that this is passing to the reader.
2. Downloading means you can have it now.
Ebooks download in seconds. By comparison, if you don’t live near a bookshop, you have to wait days for the physical equivalent. This is going to change the way that we read. When you decide on what you want, it’s there ready to start by the time you’ve boiled the kettle. Free samples are instantly available too, which is so much better than standing in the bookshop trying too decide what to buy.
3. Ebooks come in a plain vanilla wrapper
At first, the lack of distinguishing covers seemed like a major problem. But the more ereading I’ve done, the less this has come to worry me. It’s the words that matter, and e-ink readers like the Kindle Touch deliver them up in a consistent format.
4. Ebooks are available to read anywhere, anytime.
So long as you have a source of light, an e-ink reader performs as well, or better than paper format. Screens are easy to read from, and have the ability to increase font size. E-ink readers like the Kindle Touch are light and portable. It’s easy to hold an ereader with one hand, which is not always true of larger print format books.
You no longer have to rigourously limit your reading matter when you’re on the move. No more choosing which two books to take on holiday. How many ebooks would you have to pack before you reached the 20kg luggage limit?
5. More space around the house.
There are hundreds of books in my house. They’re everywhere, and they seem to be breeding. For some time, lack of shelf space has been a growing problem. We will still buy physical books there is a title we really want to keep. But thanks to ebooks, storage requirements are going to peak and slowly decline.
6. Ereaders change your reading habits.
Based on the experience of the last three months, I am going to read more, and read more widely that I did with physical books. There are two additional factors at play:
I’ve read several classics in the last few months that I would not have read in paper format – who knew that Jane Austen was so good?
I’ve found some good free books or low priced books by new authors who are self-publishing their work.