Last Saturday night I was sitting on a plane, failing to sleep due to being surrounded by people reading with their overhead lights on. From my aeroplane seat vantage point, I could see exactly equal numbers of e-readers and books. This got me philosophising on the Kindle debate – who are they for, where should you use them, are they killing books, and every other argument that has already been made.
As you may have already gathered, I am book person. A physical book person. I love the smell and texture of books, the weight of them in my bag. It is satisfying to flaunt what you are reading.
When you stuff a bookmark in (usually a train ticket in my case), you can see exactly how much further you have to go. They go fat and crinkly when you drop them in the bath – something you can’t do with a Kindle!
Having been extremely anti-Kindle, being forced to wear extra clothes on the flight back because I had no room for a new book I had acquired (a large trade paperback!) made me consider a change of heart.
For trains and planes, I concede they may have their place. I am reluctant to say that I can see a place for them on the beach – I was overjoyed to see a man reading a cloth-bound hardback on a sun lounger last week.
In some ways, I think e-readers may have had a positive effect on books. Walk into a bookshop today, you will notice some gorgeous, interesting covers, the benefit you just don’t get from a Kindle.
Penguin’s new English Library classics, for example, are beautiful but affordable. This is likely to be the future of books – attractive and permanent, objects that can be handed down. I approve.
In terms of sales, it is undeniable that e-books are currently and will continue to damage the physical book market. But speak to many Kindle owners, and they will confess to buying titles in both digital and physical forms. To return to the now suffocating subject of the Fifty Shades phenomenon – sales of which are now into their millions – getting your hands on a copy over the weekend was almost impossible. They have been ordered in their thousands and rationed by distributors.
While sales of erotic fiction are up approximately 400% since the launch of e-readers, on this occasion people still want to be seen with the books in their hands.
Children’s books, particularly for 0-5 years will obviously never be replaced by Kindle. There will always be a market for them, and it doesn’t really matter what format they come in. Board books, sticker books, picture books, ‘lift-the-flap’ and ‘touchy-feely’ books.
They could never be replaced by a screen. So, children could be the solution to preventing e-books taking over the world. Catch them when they are young and get them to fall in love with books, then maybe, just maybe, they might keep loving them as adults. I urge you, before you pass over your kindle or iPad, take them to the kids section of a bookshop and see which one makes them happier.