Friday, 5 August 2011

Embrace the Physical and the Digital

This morning my mum waved a newspaper article in my face and told me I had to read it. Yes, yes, I'll get round to it, I thought and when I finally did this afternoon I felt like I just had to have my two-penneth!

The article has the headline "No tears now the dog-eared book has had its day" and was in The Daily Telegraph yesterday - here it is online. To give you a summary, Shane Richmond talks about how his daughter's generation will probably never buy a physical book and all her textbooks will be digital. He also expounds the advantages of ebooks over their forefathers and actually I happen to agree, my Kindle has revolutionised my reading habits. Like Shane Richmond says, you can search and make notes without scribbling over a lovely printed book - which is just plain vandalism in my opinion! I'd also like to propose another advantage which is very personal to me and is that it means I don't overspend on books. Now, I don't just order any old book because I quite fancy reading it, find I don't have time to read it, buy something else I'd much rather read at the time and that poor book gets filed onto my bookshelf to be read, if it is lucky, in a few years time. My buying habits on my Kindle are strictly "once you've finished one book you may buy another" which means I don't have any expensive dead wood cluttering up my device. It means I'm more organised, which is where my happy place is, and more economical.

Now, I don't want to start arguing about whether paper or digital is better because there is clearly no right answer to that one and this actually brings me to my two-penneth. I'm 25 years old and I got my Kindle for my quarter century birthday which actually puts me in a very undecided position. On the one hand I'm in my neophilic years: the must-have-new-gadgets-and-actively-explore-new-products-and-new-ways-of-nurturing-efficiency-and-revolution-in-my-life stage. Believe me, if I had the money I would buy every new toy on the block but fortunately I am on the church mouse side of the poverty scale so my house isn't decorated with technology. It's actually decorated with books, which brings me to my other hand. I'm in the in-between generation where I had physical books throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood, indeed for most of my life they were the only type of book going. I love physical books, I love to browse my shelves and take them down like I'm greeting an old friend I haven't seen in years, riffling through their pages to nostalge and smell how old they've gotten. I love the cover art and all the different typefaces, the different textures of the papers and the different ways they sit in my hands. It makes each one a unique entity that holds a spot in my heart because it had a part of my life. I still remember where I was when I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire or how summery it was when I read Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz and when I take these books down off my shelf all those memories come back to me.

I have a flashback of sitting at my old kitchen table reading Goblet of Fire 
in the summer holidays between year 8 and 9 and I get summerlust 
when I think about Skeleton Key (this is the old cover I have!)

OK, now I sound like a supporter of the physical book but really I'm not. I'm actually a supporter of BOTH physical and digital books which is why I say I'm in the in-between generation where I have a great love of both story-based media. My ideal resolution of this argument is actually to keep both, as a consumer I want a choice. Music fans are maintaining the choice with both MP3 downloads and CDs for sale (and even vinyls in some places!) so why can't book fans have the same? For me, nothing beats the excitement of going into a bookshop or a library and running my hand along all those spines and I'd quite like to keep that experience but at the same time be able to download my next book in the time it takes me to sneeze. My ultimate book buying situation would be just like it (now legally!) is with music where I can buy a physical book but then enter a code or scan the barcode and have a digital copy of that book dropped onto my Kindle. OK, I know it has to be a bit more complicated than that or everyone would just go around scanning all the books in the shop, but you get my drift. I want the convenience of a digital copy with the ability to hide my children's book covers on the train but the pleasure of owning the physical item too. My partner will only buy CDs and then rips them (totally legally now!) onto his laptop because he wants the artwork and the quality that comes with the physical item. It's not antiquated, it's about choice and isn't that what they are always trying to give consumers? Isn't that what healthy competition is all about?

My beloved Kindle and the book I'm currently reading from 
a series I was buying long before my Kindle

I have books in series that I will now only buy as physical books because I don't want half the series to be physical and the other half digital. I also have books that I bought on my Kindle and now wish I had a physical copy of it because they meant so much to me. It's like I want to pluck out my memory of that book and display it on a shelf so that every time I glimpse it or take it down I will remember what that book meant to me. Equally there are books I bought on my Kindle which I don't mind being solely digital because even though they were good they didn't really affect me so I'm not that bothered. It's really tough being an in-betweener, I have no doubt that if I ever had children they wouldn't give two hoots about these extremely environmentally unfriendly stacks of paper wrapped up in a bit of card that clutter up the house, attract the dust and look terribly dated. Well, sorry but they are staying and they'll be with me to the day I die, just like all the books on my Kindle will be (which will hopefully be in colour by then!) because they are all my dear friends whatever format they are in. I guess I just can't be a book racist. I just hope that one day I'll be able to have books in both formats without paying twice over and I hope that they keep making paper books for the rest of my life.


  1. I'm still um-ing and ah-ing about buying a Kindle. I love that I won't have to carry around any 600 page hardbacks anymore and that I'll be able to read in places I couldn't conveniently read before, like on coaches/planes when they turn the lights off. But then I dislike that I won't be able to give away a book to someone else, if I read it and don't want to keep it. Someone also told me the other day that the Kindle flashes before every page and I worry that would drive me insane. Pah! Decisions, decisions. I feel I will drive myself mad with this!

  2. I had many misgivings about getting a Kindle, after all paper books have been such a huge part of my life but once I got it, all those misgivings just dissolved because it's so brilliant. I do miss the artwork and I do miss the tactile experience but the convenience of the Kindle just outweighs this and I always have my paper books to flick through when I get paper withdrawal. Plus, Kindle books are often a little bit cheaper than the paperbacks and my Kindle was a gift so I don't have an initial investment to recover. The only big issue is that when books are in hardback, the Kindle version has a much higher price too which is dumb because it's the same book whether the printed book is in hardback or paperback.