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Friday, 8 October 2010
So. I have a Kindle. I've officially joined the age of electronic books, and for a variety of reasons, I like it.
I really do think digital books are going to win, in the end. They're much more convenient, you can carry a lifetime's reading material in your pocket, and you can add a new book to your collection with a couple of clicks.
But it's got me thinking about a number of things. When paper books are relegated to an antiquarian curiosity (you may think that's never going to happen - but it won't seem such an alien concept to our children) there are several things that will stop making sense.
Physical bookshops are already losing the race against the online stores... but what about libraries? I love libraries, and more than that, I think they're a vital resource for increasing literacy across the population. Not everyone can afford to buy all the books they want to read - certainly, as a child, I couldn't have afforded to support my voracious habits from my pocket money. Out-of-copyright books are available for free, but what about the modern classics? Someone needs to work this one out. Our library already buys subscriptions to a variety of online journals and other resources, which library card holders can log in and use. I think there needs to be some way of extending this to cover electronic books. If I allow my mind to wander I can imagine the Amazon Library - no risk of going overdue, because when your borrowed licence expires, the book can simply disappear back into the ether from which it came.
And what of second hand books - picked up for pennies in charity shops, and loaned out to friends. I have a pile of books on my bedside table that I've borrowed from friends... but how can they lend me their ebooks?
If I've bought a book on my Kindle, I don't even know how to lend it to my husband without giving him the device. Lending and reselling books, while it doesn't make money for the author, is surely a great form of word-of-mouth advertising. But I'm not sure how it will work in the electronic age.
Book signings will also require some ingenuity. If I turn up to a signing with my Kindle, do you think an author would happily inscribe the case? Would I even want them to...? Yet an electronic signature just won't have the same sentimental value (and can be easily forged).
What do you think? What will the reader's world look like in ten - or fifty - years?