30/07/12 - The Great Ongoing Kindle Debate...where do you stand?

“Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators” – Stephen Fry.

As a recent Kindle covert, I am inclined to agree with Mr Fry on this point, as I am inclined to agree with him on nearly every point as he is a national treasure and generally a bit of a babe.  And his autobiographies are well worth a read if you get chance!

Personally, I put off getting a Kindle for a very long time for a variety of reasons, the main one being that the idea made me feel a bit like a sell-out.  I’m a massive hoarder of books (as are my entire family – there are books in literally every room of our house) and there’s just something about owning books that I really like – seeing them all lined up on shelves, piled around my room where there’s no more space for them, the action of actually turning pages to find out what’s going to happen.  Nothing beats wandering around a library or a bookshop, pulling titles off the shelves and discovering books you never knew existed.  Anyone who has ever borrowed a book from me will probably find it covered in green highlighter, indicating my favourite passages or lines that have particularly inspired me.  It’s something I’ve grown up with and reading has always been one of my life’s greatest pleasures.  So I wasn’t convinced by the idea of replacing that magic of paper and ink with a screen.  Reading was always the last refuge in my life that hadn’t been taken over by the digital.  It was my last form of entertainment that didn’t involve a screen.  Also, as the daughter of a librarian and a part-time library assistant myself, I’m not a fan of anything that will potentially start endangering libraries even more than they already are.  The threat of the e-reader to the publishing industry and everything connected with that (bookshops, both independent and chain stores, libraries, etc.) was something that I was in no way willing to sell into.

And then a very lovely friend of mine began to talk me around.  As a fellow English student, she knows the hardships of a course which requires spending an absolute fortune on books which you then have to lug around with you in back-breakingly heavy quantities.  Travelling to and from uni at Christmas and Easter with a suitcase full of anthologies and novels is no mean feat.  And then there’s the issue of storage – in university, you will study a novel for a week, two at most, and then it will be relegated to the revision pile for a few weeks of mad annotating for essays or exams, or it will be stuck on a shelf gathering dust for the rest of the term.  Not ideal when I already have enough books doing that to sink a small naval ship.  Then there’s the cost issue.  The Amazon Kindle Store very kindly provides a huge number of classic novels, plays and poetry are available for free…something to do with copyright and public domain, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that this has already saved me a lot of money on the Shakespeare anthology I would otherwise have had to spend upwards of £30 on for my third year module.  A lot of other books are also available at a much cheaper price than if you were to purchase the paper edition.

So I got a Kindle.  This lovely friend of mine was selling her very well-cared-for and almost new Kindle Keyboard 3G for a fraction of the price it would cost to buy from Amazon, and she threw in the case as well.  And by some stroke of technological wonder that neither of us understand, I was able to retrieve all of the books she already had on the Kindle to add to the ones I have subsequently downloaded.  So thank you Rachel, you beautiful human being, and thank you to the Kindle gods for whatever happened there!  Thus far, I have only actually paid for one book for said Kindle and that is one that I will need for my dissertation.  For this reason, I suspect that I will use it, in the short term at least, as an academic tool and little more.  In terms of reading for pleasure, nothing quite beats holding an actual book.  And I have so many around my room that need reading, I can’t justify buying more to read on a Kindle!  But I will say that I have found it very useful and reading on it as not as hideous an experience as I had expected it to be.  I think I’ll become more comfortable with it as I get used to using it.  Another plus; Kindles and BlackBerries have the same charger fitting - who knew?

I do agree that the rise of the e-reader has enabled a lot of people to read books in public that they would otherwise never be seen dead with outside their own home – I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey fans (and do not even get me started on that phenomenon).  Personally, I can’t think of a book that I would be too embarrassed to be seen reading, but nonetheless, if this shift towards digitalising everything in life will encourage more people to read, surely that can’t be bad.  Only time will tell how far the development of technology will affect the publication of physical books, but for me at least, it will never replace them.  Nearly everyone I know who owns a Kindle still purchases, borrows and reads physical copies of books.  A girl I work with has a Kindle, a Sony e-reader and a paper book all on the go at one time!  Some may call that overkill, but I think it’s a positive thing.  It will be a long time, in my opinion, before we move away from printed books altogether.

What do you think about it?  Are you a Kindle fan, or a reading purist?  Do you think you could be converted?  Let me know!