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Sunday
Jun192011

e-book conversion

Slowly, but surely, e-books are becoming a fixture in my reading life. I’m not particularly wedded to hardcopy, paper books – I’m used to reading electronically – but a physical book is more convenient to pick up and more pleasant to hold... but, but, but. The advantages stood out like a sore thumb on my recent trip to the States. Instead of carting around one or more books to read, I had half a library’s worth in electronic form. That 700+ page door stopper of Justin Cronin’s (The Passage – fantastic read) wasn’t weighing down my hand luggage, I read it on the screen. Reading China Mieville’s The City and the City meant I didn’t have to reach for a dictionary for all those words I don’t know, I just highlight with a tap and the e-dictionary tells me the meaning. Bored, and look for another book, I just browse through genres, categories, authors and find books to sample instantly. If I like it, and the price is right, I might buy then and there.

Amazingly simple and convenient.My friend browsing the e-reader displays at a New York Barnes & Noble store. Note how large the display is, and that is located front and centre of the store.

Contrast this with books I have bought in physical form recently, and I am completely in love with sampling. Any chance I have to avoid shelling out $20 for a novel that just doesn’t hold me past page three, or page fifty, is money saved, paper saved, shelf-space saved.

I had many discussions with friends in the States about e-books, and their disbelief that it could ever replace paper books, and was generally playing devil’s advocate, but more and more I was advocating my own opinion that e-books are an overwhelmingly positive phenomenon for readers and authors. With them, authors can potentially make a reasonable living and control their own creative brand. With them, readers can sample books, enjoy their choices at a much reduced price, have the convenience of a virtual library in their bag, buy books anytime and anywhere there is an internet connection. The main downside is the loss of a physical object, the tactile pleasure of holding a book, turning pages, smelling the paper and ink, running your fingers over a glossy cover. But paper books won’t disappear. Vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs are all still with us. Paper books may be marginalised to collector’s items, or speciality goods or a reduced niche market for holdouts, but they’ll always be around. If there is a quality version of a book I love, I’ll buy it.
Jeff VanderMeer's The Steampunk Bible - an example of book that will always be better in hardcopy. Here shown on the shelf with other "bibles"...
David Cornish has written three volumes of his YA fiction “The Monster Blood Tattoo” series and his publisher has a hardcover version complete with additional illustrations (by the author), attached ribbon book-marks and expanded appendices. A beautiful package and well worth the few extra dollars. This type of book-as-artifact product will always sit on my book shelf. The rest will likely be a mixture of cheap imports from The Book Depository and e-books sitting on my reader.

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