July 13, 2008 in Books


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Since I moved to London a few years ago, I do not buy as many books. The main reason is that I just do not have the space to house them. So while I still spend a fair bit of time lounging at book stores, I just look longingly at the books for the most part. As a result, you’d think I’d be interested in an ebook. However, like Nick Hornby, I just would not be caught reading with one. Why? Well at £400 the borders version is bloody expensive! Plus for a book lover like myself, part of the euphoria of reading is actually holding the book and turning the pages. Thus I doubt I’ll get that same feeling from holding an ebook.

I’ll never be caught reading an ebook
Borders is struggling to sell its iLiad ebook reader. What a surprise
Nick Hornby
In branches of Borders, they are trying to flog us their ebook reader, the iLiad, for £399. In my branch last week the iLiad was piled high on the left, just as you walk in; on the right was their wall of bestselling paperbacks, many of which are being sold at half price. It was a quiet Monday morning, and there didn’t seem to be too much interest in the 400 quid ebook reader; what was striking, though, was that there didn’t seem to be too much interest in the four quid books, either.
Attempting to sell people something for £400 that merely enables them to read something that they won’t buy at one hundredth of the price seems to me a thankless task. (A member of staff at Borders told me that he had attempted to persuade a young and famous comedian to buy an iLiad last week. He seemed interested, until he was told the price, at which point he swore loudly and walked away. So at the moment, they are priced too high for millionaire showbusiness entertainers.)

There is currently much consternation in the book industry about the future of the conventional book, but my suspicion is that it will prove to be more tenacious than the CD, for the following reasons: 1) Readers of books like books, whereas music fans never had much affection for CDs. Vinyl yes, CDs no. They are too small for interesting cover art and legible lyrics, the cases break easily, and despite all promises to the contrary, they are extremely easy to break and scratch. Books have remained consistently lovable for several hundred years now. For readers, a wall lined with books is as attractive as any art we could afford to put up there. 2) Ebook readers have a couple of disadvantages when compared to MP3 players. The first is that, when we bought our iPods, we already owned the music to put on it; none of us owns ebooks, however. The second is that so far, Apple is uninterested in designing an ebook reader, which means that they don’t look very cool. 3) We don’t buy many books – seven per person per year, a couple of which, we must assume, are presents for other people. Three paperbacks bought in a three-for-two offer – expenditure, £14 approx – will do most of us for months. The advantages of the iLiad and the Kindle, Amazon’s version of the ebook – that you can take vast numbers of books away with you – are of no interest to the average book-buyer. 4) Book lovers are always late adaptors, and generally suspicious of new technology. 5) The new capabilities of the iPod will make it harder to sell books anyway. How much reading has been done historically, simply because there is no television available on a bus or a train or a sun-lounger? But that’s no longer true. You could watch a whole series of The Sopranos by the pool on your iPod touchscreen, if you wanted. Reading is going to take a hit from this.
But – and this is the most depressing reason – the truth is that people don’t like reading books much anyway: a 2004 survey of 2,000 adults found that 34% didn’t read books at all. The music industry’s problems are many and profound, but you never see advertisements asking us to listen to more music; there are no pressure groups or government quangos attempting to ensure that we make room in our day for a little Leona Lewis. The problem is getting people to pay for music, not getting people to consume it.
I’m not naive – I’m sure that in the future we’ll be able to take a pill that saves us the trouble of having to read anything ever, and books will die overnight. But while people are so resistant to the act of reading itself, the £400 reader is not going to be the must-have accessory of the near future.
This article first appeared on Nick Hornby’s blog http://nickhornby.campaignserver.co.uk


  1. July 15, 2008 at 7:20 pm


    Look at that — $349 in the US and if I had to guess same product in the UK is probably about £349. Total rip-off of the British consumer.
    That said, the pound is still strong against the US dollar — however, it has weakened somewhat against the Euro.
    So no, not exactly free!

  2. July 15, 2008 at 12:18 am

    Andrew Hecht

    I totally agree with you. While the techie in me loves the concept and I have read books on both my Palm and iPod, there’s nothing that compares to actually holding a physical book in your hands.
    I’ve overcome the fact that I have no room (and little budget) for books anymore by hitting up the local public library. We have a great library system here in Oakland. I think it sorely underused, which actually benefits me. I can order any of the millions of books in the collection and have them sent to the branch down the street. It’s brilliant and it’s paid for with tax dollars.
    That said, the other day while I was waiting for the bus, there was a guy behind me with Amazon’s Kindle (google it). He said he loved it. It wasn’t very large, but was easy to read. You download newspapers-he was reading the wall street journal. However, the price is still a little steep at $349. (but when you make pounds, that’s almost like free, right?)

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