I have to make some apologies. First, I am late posting this owing to problems with our Internet connection. Second, I’m going to continue on the theme that Mary started last week – the Kindle and ebooks.
I’m now the proud owner of a Kindle. The route to getting it has been by no means smooth and, since our wi-fi network failed yesterday and we have had to resort to a modem temporarily, it sits forlornly on the desk. So far, I have managed to download only one book – Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I chose that one to test the procedure, partly because I have never read it and partly because it was free.
On the basis of one book downloaded, I am hardly in a position to pronounce about the merits of Kindles versus the traditional printed book. However, Mary’s anxiety about failing bookshops started me speculating about the future for printed books, publishers and bookshops.
Apparently, although I don’t have the figures, the Kindle was the most gifted Christmas present ever in 2010. Sales of ebooks have increased exponentially and I believe they have even overtaken those of traditional books in the States.
My view is that there are pros and cons to both. If the advent of ebooks means that more people are introduced to the joys of reading because they feel more comfortable with electronic media, then all well and good. And clearly, a Kindle is a much more practical proposition when travelling than a pile of books. There’s the environmental argument as well: ebooks could save millions of trees being sacrificed. As Jill pointed out, though, can we look forward to piles of unwanted or obsolete Kindles littering the landscape? And what about the feel, look and even smell of a traditional book? Whatever jazzy cover you put on a Kindle you’ll never recreate that.
Even if ebooks do get the upper hand, I believe that there will still be a need for publishers. They will have to adapt fast to the rapidly changing market to survive, though. I can’t put it better than writer Stephen Leather in September’s Writing Magazine. He makes the point that, when releasing a book, traditional publishers do all the production, marketing, promotion and publicity.
He goes on to say, ‘But when you self-publish, you have to do that yourself, which takes a lot of time and effort. Most successful ebook authors who self-publish seem to spend almost as much time marketing and promoting their work as they do writing.’
When it comes to bookshops, I’m not so sure. Book sales through traditional outlets had already been hit hard by the advent of Amazon and similar online bookshops. Ebooks have driven another nail into the coffin. I still like browsing in bookshops, although I don’t get the chance to do it much living where we do. But for many people it’s far more convenient to buy online and the selection is unbeatable.
Only time will tell if the ebook really does toll the death knell for the traditional book. In the meantime, I’m going to hedge my bets and enjoy both.