Dedicated ebook readers have come and gone, although the buzz surrounding Kindle would seem to indicate that Amazon’s forthcoming addition to the market is liable to make a bit of a splash. Whilst it may make certain inroads, we are a long way from the death of the traditional book, and personally I won’t be buying a dedicated ebook reader anytime soon.
Dedicated ebook readers have always been a hard sell. By separating the content from the reader (the traditional book nicely packages the two together), the consumer has a large initial outlay with few additional benefits. Yes the Kindle can hold hundreds of books, and has a long battery life, but would I really want to be sitting in the bath with it? Or on the beach? Could I throw it across the room in frustration? Or spill coffee on it? Whilst the technology has improved, they are still struggling to create something that matches the durability of the traditional book.
“I’ve actually asked myself, ‘Why do I love these physical objects?’ ” says Bezos. ” ‘Why do I love the smell of glue and ink?’ The answer is that I associate that smell with all those worlds I have been transported to. What we love is the words and ideas.”
I don’t doubt that part of the reason people love the physical objects is the association with the words and ideas, but there is also the love of the book as an object. An object that can be passed from one person to another. An object that is forever associated with a particular time or place with the marks and bookmarks seemingly forever embedded in it. The web is filled with more words and ideas than my personal library ever will be, but whilst I would be annoyed at the loss of my computer or internet access, I would mourn the passing of my library.
There are similarities between the music industry and book industry but we should be careful in taking the comparisons too far. Within the music industry there has always been a separation between content and player, and whilst CDs offered an enhanced sound quality over vinyl, they were never particularly loved in the same way and their passing wasn’t missed as much. Books are loved as physical objects.
There are without doubt occasions when an ebook reader will be of more use than the traditional book, but for the majority such occasions will be few and far between and the reader will be better served by their mobile phone or mini-laptop. Technology can bring advantaged to the book industry, but I much more eagerly await the appearance of high quality print-on-demand facilities in local bookshops than ebook readers.