Slightly less bookist?

May 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have no desire to own a reader because I have no desire to read e-books. I do, however, have a small desire to be able to subscribe to overseas publications that postage costs currently make unaffordable. And those moments of “oh, wouldn’t a reader be handy” come more and more often I come across something that is not available, or no longer available, to paper-preferrers. The Ecologist magazine, for example, whose green-motivated decision to go electronic only seemed to me not so much reducing its carbon footprint but outsourcing it, unless nobody else in the world reads magazines like I do, with a quick skim one day, a detailed read another day, and several more flicks through before ripping out the pages I want to keep. Once the paper copy is produced, it can be read an infinite number of times without further energy expenditure. Not so for an electronic version, for which no definite carbon footprint can surely ever be calculated. I can see many reasons why readers and publishers would prefer digital to print, but I’m not convinced by claims of enviro-superiority.

Last month the frustration of not having a reader was trying to read the three Bronwen Wallace nominations on iTunes. This week the exclusive e-only temptation is a great little app called Storyville, which I’ve been hearing about for ages and trying not to mind that it’s for iPods, iPads and Kindles only. It sends subscribers four short stories a month, usually from newly published collections. I wonder if I could talk them into producing a pdf (which is how I read Five Dials, a great little sort-of online publication).

And then there was the time I tried to borrow an e-book from the library. More and more often, my local library is getting books as e-books only, or—even more frustratingly—as e-books and audiobooks but not paper books. After going round in circles for a while I finally tracked down the link to download the book. Turned out my library doesn’t have the book at all, but belongs to a centralised network that does. I tried to check out the book there, but it had already been borrowed (don’t look now, public library system, but I think one of the advantages of e-books over print just got checked out).

A couple of weeks later an email told me my book was available but I had to check it out within 72 hours or lose my chance. The downloaded pdf wouldn’t open. The Kindle version wouldn’t open (although I downloaded Kindle for PC specifically for that purpose). I decided it must be me, and abandoned the whole scheme. But a few days later I saw that a friend had self-published a Kindle-only e-book. The single pound she was charging was not much to lose if I couldn’t make it work. I bought it, downloaded it and watched it open automatically in the reader in less time than it took to find the link to request an email notification that the book was available.

I’m (mostly) not a Luddite but I am in favour of ease of use. If saving money by going digital means, for some organisations, effectively outsourcing a huge slab of the effort onto the reader, then I’m not interested. The technology and the people using it have to meet me more than half way. Is ease of use, as much as its price-slashing, publisher-breaking business tactics, the reason that Amazon is eating the book world? Or is it far less painless than my library makes it seem, and in fact everyone else is doing a great job? I don’t know. For the moment, though, my most pressing question is “Can you print a Kindle file?”

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