17th Jul 2012
E-Readers: What Do You Think?
For Books’ Sake writers Jo Throup and Lauren Peel take us through what they make of the e-reader uprising, and the possible future of virtual books.
Once upon a time in a land not so far away, there was no such thing as e-readers. People had to go out and buy books from bookshops. When people had finished those books they then stored them. Some people (and by some people I mean myself), have wardrobes that are 70% books, 30% clothes as well as bookcases in every hallway. Then, in 2007, the Kindle appeared.
Life Before a Kindle
Jo: Actually, how dare they? How dare they even suggest that books should be read on a screen. This is how I felt about Kindles and e-readers. And I wasn’t alone, all my bookish friends and literary lovers felt the same way. We snarled and said it was stupid.
My main problem with the e-reader was that I couldn’t entertain the idea of reading on a screen, which is something I hate. I always print out my work to edit and redraft it.
Somehow, it’s easier to mentally absorb the words from the page, so I couldn’t imagine reading an entire novel on screen or at least, not without getting square eyes and an angry headache.
What were people getting out of reading from e-readers anyway? Wasn’t part of the joy of books to do with the smell, the texture – the physical aspects of the book itself? ‘It’s just a phase,’ I told myself ‘it won’t catch on.’
Lauren: When I first saw a Kindle advertised, my immediate reaction was that of shock and disgust. How could anyone ever prefer having an electronic screen to holding and feeling a real book? How can people give up the joy of spending hours in book shops looking for something new and exciting?
I was furious and in my eyes, for a long time, people who read books on a small, handheld screen were no longer real book lovers and were just jumping on top of the latest trend.
Luckily, my literary loving friends felt the same way so while no debate ever arose in my social circle, much time was spent chastising the nation for giving up on the beauty of books.
After all, it’s not just the written word and the story I love about reading, it’s the whole experience. And then everything changed…
Life With a Kindle
Jo: Then an iPad came into our household. And I had no use for it (save for wasting several hours playing Fruit Ninja – a highly addictive game where the object is to slice through various fruits with a samurai sword), until curiosity got the better of me and I downloaded Amazon’s free Kindle app.
After momentarily being plagued with guilt for betraying the paperback, I skimmed my way through half a novel in one afternoon – no headaches, and my eyes remained… well… eye-shaped.
Aside from all the logistical benefits the e-reader provides that paperbacks don’t (like not taking up most of the space in your holiday suitcase), e-readers have the added bonus of allowing you to buy books anywhere, anytime.
This can be a bit of a financial liability – everyone I know who has an e-reader purchases far more books on it than they would if they were in a book shop.
My partner also uses the e-reader to study, as his electronic textbooks come with test software to test what you have learned in each chapter. Suffice to say, I was actually a little more than impressed.
Lauren: One Christmas day 2011, my views took a sharp change. My parents have always believed in fairness and when my older brother asked for a Kindle for Christmas, they thought it would be a good idea to get me one too.
I was shocked; surely my mum knew my strong views on these devices? However, when I opened the packet and held the Kindle in my hand, I was instantly attracted to all of its positive features.
It was incredibly light and the perfect size to be held in one hand (I hate the new fashion of large books which take all of your strength to read in bed).
The screen was very easy to read and didn’t cause headaches, a feature that was advertised a lot by Amazon. Best of all, within five minutes of setting it up, I had both The Bell Jar and The Great Gatsby and was able to spend Boxing Day in an American-classic haze.
One thing that does trouble me about the Kindle is that I seem to forget what money is. As a student, my budget for buying books has sadly shrunk and I am now reliant on libraries, lending from my friends and birthday gift cards.
On the Kindle, I saw The Bell Jar for £3.49 and I thought ‘bargain!’. In a shop where I live I would have never paid that. Like all e-shopping, it is easy to forget that money will go out of your account.
What is perhaps worse with the Kindle is that the books are there instantly and it is easy to spend a lot of money very quickly.
Although I do very much like my Kindle, particularly the fact that I can take many books with me wherever I go which is perfect for holidays, I still cannot seem to stop myself from buying books.
How E-Readers are Affecting Publishing
Electronic-readers have been the root cause of the recent self-publishing bubble. Not only has the e-reader made books readily available, day or night, for cheap and at the touch of a button, but it has also modified the gatekeepers of the publishing industry.
Traditional self-publishing seemed to be, until very recently, regarded as vanity publishing for ‘wannabe’ writers, desperate to see their name in print. Thanks to the e-reader aspiring authors can self-publish directly with minimum fuss.
Which is exactly what paranormal fiction writer Amanda Hocking did in 2010 having had a whopping 17 novels rejected by agents and publishing houses in the US and UK.
Hocking became a bestselling author not overnight, but pretty damn close. She has since signed a contract with Macmillan. She’s also a millionaire.
Okay, so the self-publishing e-book success stories like this are rare, most e-book authors are earning £500 a year or less, but electronic book sales are by and large much fairer on the authors than traditional – or what is now being referred to as ‘legacy’- publishing, with authors taking away 70% of each book sale, as oppose to the 10 to 15% they receive from paperbacks.
The self-publishing boom provided by e-readers is the source of much controversy. On the plus side, aspiring authors can publish and find an audience and become successful without pitching to literary agents and publishers.
On the down side, it’s up to the author to edit, promote and market their own books – which is a lot to ask of one person, particularly where the horrific not-seeing-the-wood- for-the-trees task of editing is concerned.
Will the E-Reader Make the Paperback Obsolete?
Well, maybe. At this stage it could go either way. I’d like to see a future where the paperback and the e-book live together in perfect harmony, with unicorns and rainbows.
But it might be that e-books dominate the market and eventually the paperback will disappear. That said, a recent survey suggests that the majority of British readers favour the paperback over the e-book.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the e-reader was some kind of weapon of mass destruction sent from space to destroy fiction itself. Many people seem to think that electronic readers are killing off books and the publishing industry, when it’s actually doing quite the opposite.
E-books might actually be a way of levelling the playing field – enabling publishers to find aspiring authors who can sell their work, and for aspiring authors to find an audience, breaking the confines of having their work marketed to attract a certain audience demographic and instead putting something out there, and actually finding an audience.
Jackie Collins announced in February, for example, that she will be re-writing The Bitch and selling it as an e-book, stating that she also has a collection of short stories which she can’t publish via her publisher.
Famous authors will be able to split from their publishers (contract depending) and begin to publish their books themselves, not only keeping more of the profits but also having more power to do what they want with their writing.
Another interesting factor is that the sale of erotica fiction has increased significantly, due to the discretion provided by the e-reader. We’re not suggesting that we’re all reading filth on the commute to work, but it’s encouraging to know that sales are on the rise (sorry).
This is possibly because people feel more comfortable to purchase the genre in the discreet e-format, and the increase in sales has encouraged Harper Collins to develop their own digital erotica imprint: Mischief.
The Future of E-Reading?
Sony have just announced the development of a Wonderbook, which appears to be a book-shaped game controller. JK Rowling has written a new ‘Book of Spells’ and the Wonderbook allows users to cast spells using a Playstation Move and see how the story unfolds.
While the Wonderbook is still largely a Playstation game based on books, it may be a sign of things to come. iPads and other tablets may not only add animations to their stories but can reach new heights of reader involvement.
When Harry Potter casts a spell, the reader may be able to read out the words and cast it themselves. When Winston Smith is in Room 101, the readers own worst fear might appear on the screen (okay, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but it could happen…).
Where e-readers brought books to a new format, augmented reality experiences may be next. While living the novel may be exciting, it may be a step too far for many readers who like to create images and stories of their own when reading. We will have to wait and see what the next ten years bring.
The future of books, electronic or otherwise, is uncertain at the moment. The general consensus seems to be that no one really knows what’s going to happen.
But at least this space-age technology is encouraging people to read, and not just to read well-known authors, but also to read books written by people trying to break into the industry. And as literary lovers, maybe we should see that as a good thing.
What do you make of Kindle and E-readers? Love to hate, or loath to love? Let us know your experiences…
Jo Throup and Lauren Peel