The book bounces back | The Sunday Times

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The Book Bounces Back

This article (from yesterday's Sunday Times News Review section) is worth a bit of mulling over. For a start, it's a fluent piece of journalistic writing and worth reading in full. Though it's likely the link will only work for you if you have a Times subscription.

The author, Robert Collins, begins by telling us how a group of ten twenty-somethings went on holiday to Portugal last summer, five of them with ereaders and five with actual books
packed inside their baggage.

A few days into the holiday two of the party dropped and smashed their ereaders (I'm not going to try, but I fancy my Kindle is a lot more resilient to being dropped than this.) This was no big deal as the house they were staying in (owned by a British couple) was full of books. So that was fine. We are told that the three holidaymakers whose ereaders were still working also began picking out books from these shelves rather than reading the titles they had downloaded onto their devices.

"Surely this is all wrong?" Collins claims. Really? Might it not just be that the ereading members of the party had simply elected to take their devices on holiday because they were not anticipating staying in an apartment with a ready library of real books all in English.

The opening story about this holiday in Portugal is not really that big a deal, but it does highlight the serendipitous pleasure to be found in stumbling on unanticipated selections of new reading.

"In 2011 British ebook sales went up by 366%." I haven't checked this statistic, but lets accept it as correct.

It is necessary that we do, for Collins' next statistic to have its full impact.

"What increase do you think British ebook sales showed over the 10 months to last October? The answer is a measly 16%"

Collins believes that these figures (and others that he presents) indicate that early adopters of ereaders "have found themselves starting to migrate back to paper books."

Witness Daisy Goodwin, whom Collins interviews. Goodwin was an eager early Kindle adopter. She claims she has owned 12, all of which 'packed up' and had to be replaced by Amazon. What, one wonders, does she do with them! I have not heard of people having 'breakdown' issues with their Kindles. "The Kindle is a really horrible thing," Goodwin now says. "They've been designed so shoddily, you can't have any affection for them. It's like a remote control."

Collins cites another issue with ereaders that does explain people's preference for reading bound books. "While most ereaders have bookmarks to allow you to return to a page, they have not been able to replicate the ability to flick a few pages back quickly through a physical book to find a particular sentence or paragraph."

But has Collins never read an ebook on an iPad? The page-flicking experience when reading an iBook is identical to reading a printed book, apart from the fact that you do not feel the thickness of the pages between thumbs and fingers.

Digital currently makes up only 13-14% of book sales in Britain. "Ereaders are being used for specific kinds of reading: commuting and travelling and for the kinds of novels that people race through and never read again."

Certainly digital reading is mobile reading. But why should it just be for reading raced through and never read again? The next ACHUKAbooks title will be a collection of poetry. Poetry that we hope will be read slowly and returned to. Digital is the perfect medium for return reading, regular rereading. Because you can have it there with you, wherever, whenever. On your Kindle, your iPad, your tablet, even your mobile phone.

Yes, Collins' piece has been worth mulling over. I share his confidence in the survival of printed books. But he is wrong to try and persuade us that ereading was just a craze that is already on the wane.