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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why I still don't think the Kindle will replace the book

It's been drawn to my attention that in 2008 I wrote a column claiming that Kindles wouldn't happen. I think my key point was that half the point of reading a book in public was so that other people could see what you were reading.

Leaving aside the fact that it would be a pretty poor column if I filled it with verifiable fact, I was clearly wrong, as many millions of Kindle sales will attest.

And yet.

I've got a Kindle and would recommend one to anyone who does a lot of reading for the simple reason that they speed up your reading. If I've got to read something in a hurry, they're the only way to go. They don't lose your place and - don't laugh - they don't require both hands to support them. You can read one standing up in a crowded carriage on the Tube or while eating cereal.

On the debit side they're shoddily produced, inadequately proof-read and often very hard to navigate. A friend the other day was arguing it was impossible to read Hilary Mantel on the Kindle because you needed to be consulting the cast of characters at the front of the book. (I read Wolf Hall as a book and Bring Up The Bodies via reading machine and I found the second one easier because I was reading it more often and therefore keeping to the thread.)

As far as authors are concerned e-books are a mixed blessing. They may increase your pool of readers but those readers won't be paying you very much money. That's why they'd rather sell you this nice autographed hardback.

In recent months when I haven't been commuting daily I've gone backwards, buying and reading more paper books than I did in the couple of years before that when I was first smitten with the Kindle.

I'm already operating a three-tier system. Some things I want as books. Other things I'm happy to read on Kindle. Some very special things I need to have on both.

I'm doing the same with music. Most things I'm happy going to Spotify for. If I really like them I want the CD. If I love them I have to search out a version on vinyl. It's like the difference between dating, going steady and marriage.