May romance of books ‘kindle’ in times of tech onslaught!

A friend showed me his Kindle reader on Sunday. I had heard about Kindle of course but had not actually seen one. And even though I get slightly resentful when new technology threatens my comfort zone, I had to agree that there was little doubt that it would catch on.

If you are as technologically illiterate as I am, then you will not know what Kindle is. I’m not sure I can explain it properly but essentially, Kindle is a hand-held device roughly the size of a paperback book. It has a large screen on which you can download books.

The idea is that eventually, we won’t have to buy books. We will browse a catalogue on our Kindle screens, choose the books we want and then download them on our Kindle devices. That way, all books will be available to anyone who has access to Kindle.

I can see the logic behind Kindle. And I know that nothing can stop the march of technology, etc., etc. But I will miss the book even as Kindle drives it into eventual obsolescence.

I guess it’s the same with newspapers. I know that they remain a relatively inefficient, environment-unfriendly way of staying well informed. But there is no substitute for waking up in the morning and burying your face in a newspaper. I can’t watch TV in the morning and it is very unsatisfying to turn on the computer to find out what’s happening.

With books, it is the romance of book buying that I will also miss. There are few activities that can compare, in terms of sheer pleasure, with the joy of going to a good bookshop. You don’t actually have to buy that many books. It is the thrill of going through the shelves, perusing each book and leafing through its pages.

In that sense, book buying – or even window shopping – is almost a sensual activity. Reading the book on an electronic screen just doesn’t cut it in quite the same way.

My guess is that even if Kindle really catches on – which it probably will – as technology advances and costs come down, there will always be a market for books. Too many of us are in love with the sight of words on paper to give up on that romance.

The parallel is with the hardback. When paperbacks caught on, many people predicted the demise of the hardcover book. But even though the majority of the market is paperback dominated, the hardback still occupies a substantial and influential niche.

On the other hand, you could argue that the book will go the way of the music disc. When I was young, I used to love going to record stores and looking at album covers. Even when the LP died, to be replaced by the compact disc, I still enjoyed my visits to the shops and made lists of CDs I wanted to buy.

Now, in this ipod era, I care less and less about compact discs. My son and his generation would never dream of buying them. They just get their music from the internet. I doubt if the CD can survive for more than a decade or so.

I suspect the same will be true of the DVD. When I first bought a DVD player I used to love going to the shops in London and New York and looking for the latest DVDs. Now, I find them hideously overpriced and would much rather buy a pirate disc even though the retail experience can be disgusting. In a few years time, I imagine I won’t even have to buy pirate discs. I will just download everything I need from the net.

So, which model will the future of the book follow? Will it be the DVD and CD pattern where obsolescence is a given. Or will it be like hardback books, where the market remains.

My money is on the hardback model. But then, I am a romantic.

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