Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Could a device that isn't for reading ebooks make people read ebooks?

Like many authors I have mixed feelings about ebooks. It is always great to have people reading your books, and ebooks get to places that other books can't... but on the other hand it's rather like Aston Martin producing a competitor to a Ford Fiesta. For all their hi-tech, ebooks are rather crude because they lack the careful page layout that goes into a 'real' book, so inevitably they feel like they've been designed by a ten-year-old.

Even so, there is no doubt that some people will buy an ebook version of a title they wouldn't bother to buy in paper form. (Especially when there's a sale on like the one Amazon has at the moment, with Inflight Science currently at the bargain price of £2.49 at Amazon.co.uk or $4 at Amazon.com. There are other goodies too. I'd recommend taking a look at Manjit Kumar's chunky Quantum. As you'll see from my review I've mixed feelings about the book, but at this price, who can complain? This fat tome is £6.15 in paper form, but currently 99p at Amazon.co.uk or $1.60 at Amazon.com.)

The difficulty, though, is getting people to dip a toe into the ebook market. Why would you buy a Kindle unless you wanted to read ebooks? But many people still they are quite satisfied with paper, thank you. To quote one writer, Jean Hedelstein, 'I have never found reading books to be a problem, so I’ve equally never felt the need to own a device that mitigates the non-problem of having books to read.'

It's here that I think that universal tablets like the iPad will help the digital market. Lots of people buy iPads with no particular intention of reading ebooks. But you can download ebook readers like Apple's iBooks and Kindle for free. With a few free titles to try out. And the ability to download free samples of most current ebooks. Once you get to that stage, it's no longer an abstract concept, but something real that you have done. I have only bought one ebook so far (and, yes, downloaded quite a few free ones), and I will mostly stick to paper. But there are times when the convenience of getting hold of an ebook will win through. And those cheapo offers on Amazon are sorely tempting. Increasingly, I feel, ebooks will sneak onto my iPad until I am at least partly converted.

So, bizarrely, I think a device that isn't particularly designed for reading ebooks is going to be more influential in converting the 'don't knows' to ebooks than dedicated readers like the Kindle. And tablets aren't going away. Rumour has it that Amazon is bringing out its own universal tablet this year, while ASDA is already selling a sub-£100 tablet. Interesting times indeed...

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