However you might feel about the rise and rise of the eReader, a phenomenon we’ve only experienced over the past couple of years, there is surely something thrilling about witnessing such a potentially seismic shift in our lifestyle, technology and the way we read and live our lives.
Not everyone feels so positive about it of course, I for one have, until recently, sat firmly in the camp of the non believers, staunchly refusing to accept any of the potential benefits and basically internally turning my nose up at anybody who tried to convince me otherwise. For me, eBooks were a soulless way of exploring the literary world, one that could prove devastatingly destructive to an already fragile world, with the death of the independent book shop an unsurprising fact of modern commercial life and even the downfall of our best-loved chain stores threatening, and even in some cases, becoming a reality (see: Borders Group).
But was this assumption true? From the start there were always benefits to having such a device. If you travel, you could take your much-loved library along with you with ease (apart from one bonkers book lover I know all to well…), if you’re physically incapacitated in any way they are lightweight and easy to use and, if you’re simply just stuck for something to read, the literary world is at your fingertips should you be lucky enough to have an internet connection. We all knew the drill. But was this convenience worth forgoing our paperbacks and potentially selling our soul to the A-monster?
The truth is, despite all this paranoia, the electronic ‘takeover’ simply hasn’t **touch wood** been the total obliteration we all imagined with horror. Although selling more overall than physical books, following a dramatic rise to lofty heights, US eBook sales have actually leveled out since 2012. Here in the UK, although eBook sales rose significantly last year, print books still came out on top, holding three-quarters of the market. Although Tim Waterstone’s recent comments may seem decidedly overconfident, perhaps this traditionally ‘stiff-upper lip’ attitude is what the industry needs to maintain the balance.
This is all, of course, a tired debate and one I’m sure you’re all too sick of hearing, but one reason why I’ve held off for so long on putting my twopenneth in is that, in my sheer militancy, it simply wasn’t relevant to me six months ago. Now, having been bequeathed an eReader (come on, I could still never bring myself to actually BUY one), I find an increasing number of publishers who, logically, prefer to email ARCs over rather than footing the bill of a print copy and also, let’s face it, my relationship will not stand another backpacking trip across the Himalaya with ten books in tow… It seems I’ve also managed to get over my general aversion enough to simply sink into whatever eBook I might be reading, rather than be blindsided by the soulless format and lack of delectable cover and smell.
It all feels rather positive really. In the world of iPads and 3D printers, the digitalisation of books was always going to be a logical step sideways. Rather than fighting against this alteration in the increasingly fast-paced, fast-fingered way in which we live our lives, traditional bookshops seem to be wisely embracing change, with chain stores like Waterstones very wisely placing an eReader stand amongst its piles of paperbacks. I’ve also noticed how notably prettier newly published paperbacks seem to be these days, capitalising on the major advantage they have over their modern cousins; i.e. the look and feel of the thing, a factor that makes book shopping such a joy (rather than scrolling down a list of titles). Can the two live side by side? I’d certainly like to think so. In fact, there is train of thought that suggests that these devices could actually encourage none-readers to pick up the original model. Wishful thinking? I certainly hope not.
All the same, I couldn’t quite resist adding this sarky advert, courtesy of Ikea ;):