Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Kindles Are Not the Only Fruit

This is a response to Andrew Oldham's wonderfully interesting blog here. For anyone not following, Jeanette Winterson upset a bunch of people in trying to say ebooks would lead to paper books being taken off the shelf.

Hmm. I kind of understand what Jeanette was trying to say, though. I don’t think she intended to insult readers, but I can see that’s how it’s come across.

Libraries at the moment only count the number of books checked out. They don’t count the number of appointments, events, people coming to use the PCs, etc. That means even busy libraries can seem empty by Government standards, even if they’re not.

We’re already seeing budgets slashed and libraries closing, so Jeanette kind of does have a point. There’s a real threat that if ebooks overtake print books, then libraries will be virtual instead. That takes away important meeting places for communities and the opportunity to find education and literature.

The other problem with ebooks is you can’t buy one as a gift for someone else (you can only buy them a voucher to buy an ebook). You can’t share ebooks the same way you can share print books. That’s a problem right there. Of course, there will be ways libraries will get round this, but does limit the access people have to books.

Another problem is that of how kids will learn to read. Can you imagine nurseries and primary schools teaching kids with e-readers? How expensive would that be, factoring in the cost of the units and the cost of breakages? I also don’t see kids engaging with ebooks the same way they would with a nice, pretty-looking, well illustrated children’s book. Ebooks are, quite frankly, ugly.

However, I honestly don’t think ebooks will outnumber print books. At least, not for a very long time. E-readers just don’t have the functionality they’d need to replace a nice paperback or hardback.

So while I agree with the sentiment that we need to protect libraries, I think Jeanette is fighting the wrong battle.

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