Friday, July 25, 2008

Digital D-Day?

More ebooks vs trad book debate in the British press following the announcement yesterday that the Sony reader will be sold from September by Waterstones bookshop for £199 (which is a hell of a lot less than the cost of the iLiad favoured by Borders).
Every business on which the development will have an impact – from booksellers, publishers and e-tailers – will be watching how UK consumers take to e-book readers ...
the Bookseller notes while Graeme Neill on the Bookseller blog considers the knock-on effect for the British publishing industry, and wonders what will do now - they have thus far refused to discuss a UK launch date for the Kindle. (Are they playing a wait-and-see game?)

However, Neill points out :

... the most interesting thing that will happen over the 12 months is whether the public are convinced. A £199 price point is attractive to early adopters but according to our features editor Tom Tivnan, the only member of The Bookseller to use the device, it is clunky to use. With the likes of the Nintendo DS and iPod on the market, the public is used to beautifully designed products that scream 'must have'. Will the Iliad and Sony Reader capture the imagination in the same way?
John Sutherland muses about the advent on the ebook on the Guardian blog and its likely impact :
... my feeling is that the current batch of e-readers are still two electronic generations premature. We await the Model T. But the seed is sown, and we won't have to wait long - the market is too big not to be filled. Will it kill the traditional book? No more than TV killed the movies, or the movies killed the theatre. It will, of course, change the cultural constellation. But, having enjoyed 500 years of dominance, the codex book can't complain about taking a back seat for the next half millennium. ... What the e-reader means - in the not too distant future - is as much of a cultural explosion as the "rather unusual manuscript" brought with it in the 15th century. It's not a storage device but a portal, a Lewisian wardrobe, opening into new worlds. New possibilities in linkage and illustration will supplement facsimile type.
Sutherland's vision of the future of the ebook is just beautiful (and - ahem - similar to my own!) :

In a few years, you'll be able to hear the author's voice - should you so wish - or switch between script and oral versions, full-text or abbreviated text, or digest. You'll be able to "dialogue" the book, or its maker. Soundtracks will be as possible, and as enriching, as they are with movies. Media mix will create new realms of literary artistry. Perhaps even smells. ... In 20 years, we won't know how we lived without the thing.
Postscript (27/7/08) :

There's a very interesting debate about ebooks in The Observer. Author Peter Conrad makes the case against them :

My iLiad may have gobbled up the oeuvres of Jane Austen, Dickens and DH Lawrence, but somewhere inside that slim slab of grey plastic they had apparently dematerialised, waiting to be summoned from the ether, page by page. All those thick books, heavy with experience, were now weightless, like ghostly replicas of the tattered, dog-eared, much-pored-over counterparts on my shelves. ... The iLiad, I discovered when I tried it out, is itself a merely metaphoric book. What you read is 'digital print' - print without an imprint, hovering in a grey cloud on the screen, remote from the gravity of the printing press or the flourishes of human handwriting.
But novelist Naomi Alderman sees the ebook's tremendous potential :

What's most exciting about ebooks is not what they can do at the moment but what they may do in the future. The iLiad can connect to the internet: imagine reading Middlemarch and, at a touch of a button, being able to look at images of the same paintings and sculptures Dorothea looks at in Rome or, for academics, being able to see links to all articles which reference the passage you're reading. ... Works written specially for the ebook reader are an even more exciting prospect. A piece of 'ebook native' fiction may allow you to hear the birdsong while reading a romantic outdoor scene, or may automatically subscribe you to a fictional newspaper mentioned in a crime thriller. Some will consider such things gimmicky and a threat to 'proper' reading, but different kinds of text can co-exist. Audiobooks haven't killed the printed word, television hasn't killed radio. What we're seeing isn't the death of the book, but the creation of a new art form. ... That form is still in its infancy, but as a novelist I'm excited by the creative opportunities it will bring. Meanwhile, as a reader, I'm simply excited by the possibility of regaining some floorspace. The e-reader will never completely replace paper books, but it's got an awful lot to recommend it.


animah said...

Does it pass the "holds up well in bed" test?

husni said...'s happening,'s happening ;P

bibliobibuli said...

husni - it is indeed. and it will happen here soon, and how it happens will happen depends very much on what happens in the next few months in the US and UK. so this is why i blog it ...