Monday, 7 September 2009

The seductive touch of paper

As a writer, I've been fascinated by the idea of ebook readers for some time - I've had a sneaky go with the Sony Reader sample in Waterstones, but I couldn't imagine what it was like to use a lump of metal and plastic instead of the real thing. This made it doubly interesting to be asked to review ebook readers for a magazine.

I can't comment on the results - you'll have to wait until the magazine is out in November - but I can consider on the overall experience. As it happens I was re-reading the Sherlock Holmes stories, which made it easy to flip my bedtime reading between paper and the various electronic offerings.

The good news is that they were easy to read, and no problem to substitute for the paper. But I confess, I prefered a conventional book in every case. I'm not one of these 'it's the smell of a book, the tactile experience, etc., etc.' people. It was simply a more pleasant experience (and you don't have to turn the page so often).

Page turning is an important factor. Many ebooks turn the page using a button press - and this feels clumsy. This was one of the two huge advantages of using an ebook reader like Stanza on the iPhone. There, turning a page is a matter of a very natural flick of the finger. The other big advantage the iPhone has (shared by the Kindle in the US, but not by any UK ebook readers yet) is being able to summon up a book over the ether. When I was waiting in Bath the other day I was able to get myself something to read despite the shops being closed, and sat happily for around 45 minutes reading on the phone.

So, for me, ebook readers are great when they have the ability to produce a book over the airwaves to fill in some dead time, but as a simple (and still quite expensive) substitute for paper, they remain very much second best.

3 comments:

  1. I'm glad to read this. I feel like an ebook reader is an inevitability in my future. I don't automatically hate the idea of it, but it does feel strange. I suppose all new technology does, though.

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  2. The environmental costs of producing, distributing and storing books means that this technology is the obvious way to go for the future. And it makes so much sense to be able to store and carry so many books with such ease as well as access new ones.

    But ... but ... Well, OK. I confess I'm one of the touchy feely brigade who loves the look and smell of Real Books.

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  3. I think you are both right. I can't see it replacing paper books any time soon, but it will increasingly be useful, particularly I suspect to professional readers/researchers.

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