Technology and reading

For weeks, people have told me that I really must produce a Kindle version of The Gamblers, that they will buy it if a suitable eBook edition comes along. Adverts for Kindle have been everywhere, reminding me about what I have to get round to doing as soon as possible. And 2010-2011 genuinely feels like a tipping point for the publishing industry.

The Kindle and the iPad seem to be fighting for dominance as the reader of choice for electronic editions of novels. Both bits of technology seem to be really making their presence felt in a way that suggests they could change publishing forever. And then I thought longer and harder about it and thought, Hmmm, I’m not so sure.

The notion of having unlimited choice doesn’t seem to me that conducive to reading. The concept of having 3,500 books in one handy format would leave me gnashing at my fingernails, wondering what I would want to read this week. Books aren’t the same as music and movies, which are ideal for the electronic format, because they are consumed in an entirely different way. Songs are done and dusted in minutes; even most albums are consumed in minutes rather than hours. Most movies are done and dusted in a couple of hours. And in both cases, there is little more involvement from the consumer than sitting and letting the experience wash over you.

Books are different. You engage with them in a different way. You pick them up, you turn the page, you read the words, you form mental pictures, you’re forced to concentrate for hours at a time. Even a short two hundred page novel can take days to read, depending on the amount of time you spend with it each day. You can’t just let things wash over you, that’s not how a book works.

I can understand why many magazine publishers are terrified and pleased about the arrival of the iPad. The format is perfect for reading magazines, which again form a different reading experience to a novel. Magazines are designed for bite-sized reading. Most articles can be read in minutes and the majority have a 50-50 balance of images to words (alternating to 60-40, either way, depending on the length of the article or importance of the images). On the iPad, magazines are beautifully immersive; videos, links to separate text, alternative photos, and other interactive content. After reading magazines or coffee table books in this format, the old-fashioned printed versions seem, well, how can I say it, er, somewhat old fashioned! But then again, having viewed normal books on an iPad, they just don’t quite work. The printed versions somehow read better than their electronic counterparts and the notion of having links to content within a novel would knock the reader out of the moment.

The Kindle fares better in this respect – having been designed specifically to mimic the printed page – but still, having viewed one on several occasions, I just don’t think I will personally rush out and buy one any time soon.

Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t move with the times and ignore that ePub format book, it’ll be done as soon as I can manage it, but it does mean that at the moment I prefer to do my reading in a handy portable, paper format. Frankly, the old fashioned way of reading is more than immersive enough for me.

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