passtime to be transformed into a digital experience.
Last week I dropped into a large bookshop in town, intending to purchase the book I'm supposed to be reading for my reading group, only to be told it's not available in paperback until the end of the month. I was a bit stunned by this, because there's an unwritten rule in our group that books selected must be available in paperback, so I emailed the group to see where people were at in tracking down the book. Some had borrowed it from the library, but others hadn't given it any thought yet.
What followed was a google-fest as a few of us looked at the options. The front-runner for a while was to purchase the book as an audio -- which would have been great if we could download as MP3 directly. Problem was, this option seemed to be available for US residents only, no matter where we looked. So maybe our US-located group member could download for us and FTP the files across? Can't remember why, but this wasn't going to be possible either.
Somewhat amazingly, my google-fest revealed a prevalence of e-reader downloads available for the book. Amazon of coursed pushed downloads for the Kindle, but there are many other e-readers being launched at the moment -- most recently in Australia the Borders Kobo eReader -- and many seemed to be supported. It makes me wonder how many Australians have embraced this new trend. Not many I know, that's for sure. For my part, I think it prudent to ensure I purchase a device with a standard format. Why lock myself in to buying ebooks from one source only? And with so many devices appearing on the market, it seems to me sensible to wait. I'm certainly not rushing out to buy one just so I can read this particular book.
We ultimately settled for the US-located group member to buy paperback copies in the US and post them -- only it turned out not to be available in paperback in the US either. So now the only remaining option is to buy in hardback or source from a library. The other challenge is we only have two weeks remaining before the discussion, from today.
This whole experience has struck me as a sign of things to come -- where books are available as electronic downloads before they are released as paperbacks. I've heard that surveys of 'Gen-Y' reveal little commitment or predisposition for 'real' books -- they are the digital generation who don't buy CDs or DVDs either. It's all about the Internet and downloads.
eReaders (and audio files), most notably the fact they don't take up any space. And now, obviously, the fact that they're readily accessible by download from wherever you happen to be; no more trekking out to the bookshop. Cost, perhaps, too -- although I'm sure the discount is less than is perhaps warranted by the drop in printing costs. Are publishers pushing them because their profit margin is better?
Besides, hands up if you actually like trekking out to the bookshop and caressing a tome of cardboard, paper & ink, and placing it carefully in your overladen bookshelf, and dragging it out every so often to flick though and relive in fragments when the mood takes you . . .
There is no doubt there's a time and a place for eReaders, and I'll inevitably take the plunge and purchase one sooner or later. They are a part of the future, and can only help to make books more widely available and accessible. But I will be sad if/when this starts to spell the end of the paperback, or 'hardcopy' books in general.
UPDATE 2 June 2010
Here's a link to an interesting article by Garth Nix, launching the Kobo E-Reader, on the subject.