Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Kindle Dilemma

I always intended to get a Kindle. Though expensive as a single purchase, it may well pay for itself through free books and cut price electronic versions of modern ones. The concept is highly convenient, allowing for instant purchasing and delivery of books, and there’s room for thousands which also saves tons of space.

And yet…

…there’s something I just don’t like about abandoning real books. I like having something in my life which I don’t need to boot up or load from a disc or charge its battery.

I also worry somewhat about the pricing. How much of the cut cost is just saved labour, and how much means a lower profit margin for authors? I might be worrying about nothing there, but there’s another more certain cause for concern.

When I was a kid, I visited a lot of second hand bookshops when on holiday. Some of my favourite books came from such places, including some Dr Who novels and Dragon Wing, the first part of the Death Gate Cycle. Independent bookstores are already struggling to compete against the might of Amazon. A world of electronic books and electronic readers is a place without any need for bookshops. I don’t doubt some would survive, and maybe real books would become more luxurious hardbacks with higher price tags, but a rush to electronic books and readers cannot be good for actual bookshops.

There’s also an issue over control: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8314092.stm

I’ve got the first volume of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on my desk, and very nice it is too. I could lend it to a friend, scribble notes in the margins, use it to steady a wobbly chair leg or find Ed Balls and thrash him about the head with it. It’s mine. But if I downloaded it (and I think it’s free or very cheap to download) it could disappear without my say so or knowledge. It’s rather ironic that Amazon accidentally deleted 1984, of all books, from Kindles a few years ago and highlights the point.

It’s not a one way street, though. The Kindle and similar devices could help break down the agent/publisher barrier between prospective authors and the book-buying public. Getting an agent/publisher is very hard, and acts as quality control but may also deprive the market of some real talent. Even highly successful authors are typically declined numerous times. With more and more people taking advantage of e-Readers we could see the market flooded with aspiring but less talented authors, or have the public, rather than agents, pick winners as almost anyone can publish for themselves electronically.

I don’t think the Kindle’s going away. But I’m also very unsure about whether I want to get one. I like technology, but the pervasiveness of it displeases me.

For now, I’m not buying an e-Reader. The next things I’ll be ordering from Amazon are three paperbacks.


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