Thursday, 17 February 2011

Kindle Guilt - Karen Ball

For my birthday, I asked for and received a Kindle. One day into ownership and I love it. I'm researching a new project and my first task was to wirelessly download a biography from Amazon and a free sample of a second biography. When I go to my writers' retreat next month, I can take a pile of research books with me should I so desire, all in the format of a slim, light device. I've also downloaded the latest novel I'm reading for my reading group and a manuscript I'm editing. I can't 'edit' on the Kindle, but I can annotate.

I was inspired to ask for this gift after seeing how the Kindle transformed my boyfriend's reading. He's gone from someone who read two books a year, to someone who now reads daily. All because he doesn't have to carry a book around with him - just a device that slips inside the inner pocket of his suit jacket. He loves technology, and that passion has made him rediscover the pleasure of reading.

I visited New York recently and saw the Barnes and Noble store on Fifth Avenue. This was the ground floor:

Nary a book in sight.

Nooks are the Barnes and Noble version of Kindle. The adult fiction had all been moved to the first floor and, I have to say, was difficult to negotiate. (For your interest, the YA department was on the lower ground floor and was MASSIVE.)

These devices are here to stay, no doubt about it. So why did I feel a sliver of guilt at joining the Kindle Club? Part of me felt as though I was being disloyal. To my fellow authors? I don't know - I don't have a clear idea of how ebook royalties work or how this development will impact on careers. To my shelves of books? I recently took bag loads to the local secondhand bookshop. To my library? I clock up so many fines that I only really loan reference books now. To the industry I've worked in for half a lifetime? I've just asked for a device that may make or break publishing as we know it.

I can't work out where my ambivalence stems from. Is it the knowledge that I'm taking a big step into a new era? I heard recently that authors are starting to carry a second pen - for signing Kindles, rather than books.

My instinct is that exciting new opportunities will come with this technological revolution. I also believe that books of paper and ink will continue to flourish alongside devices. I look to the future optimistically. But there's that definite twinge of guilt. I wish I could pin it down.

Any thoughts?

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catdownunder said...

My technologically savvy brother has tried to explain the Kindle/e-book "thingie" to our 88yr old father.
My father is not convinced. That does not surprise me. What does surprise me is that my brother is not either. My brother has said he gets a headache if he looks at the screen for too long at a time. He also pointed out that what you download is, in some instances, only "on loan". You do not keep it permanantly. You are merely paying for the privilege of borrowing a book. You cannot loan it out to friends either, or mark it in the same way.
On the other hand a friend who is currently serving as a doctor in Afghanistan has found her version a way of accessing large quantities of reading material which she uses to "switch off" from the day-to-day trauma of her job.
Perhaps it depends on what you want to use it for?

Della said...

I can imagine your ambivalence, especially because you're an author. For myself, I find the old fashioned paper book very charming and would hate to see it go. On the other hand, the technology is fantastic and has many possibilities – it's wonderful that it attracts people who haven't read much before. But I think your point about reference material is the most persuasive. The electronic format is unbeatable for students and those who need access to fast-changing and bulky reference material. It's truly revolutionary and for this reason alone I think it's here to stay.

karen ball said...

catdownunder - I think your 'what you use it for' point is key. There are times when a book just can't be replaced and I think this is why Kindles and books will become bed mates, with neither of them asking someone to roll over and push off out!

Ms. Yingling said...

Floppy disks. If you are old enough to remember those, you probably are beset by the same thought I am: how long will this device last? I can't become too attached to mine, and use it mainly for E ARCs, NOT things I need to have permanently.

Katherine Roberts said...

Welcome to the Kindle fanclub, Karen! I shamelessly asked for (and got one) for Christmas, and since then have been enjoying e-books alongside paper books.

Over the Christmas holiday, I even managed to build my first backlist e-book (Spellfall), which would have been a much harder process without my Kindle. So from an author's POV, I think an e-reader counts as an essential business expense for the new digital world, not a guilt/luxury item. As you say, these things are not going away anytime soon!

(If anyone is interested, I am running a Kindle series on my blog Reclusive Muse, which explains an easy way to build your own e-book and get it up for sale with amazon.)

Book Maven said...

Karen, please tell me what "pen" I can use to sign ebooks on readers! I have been wanting to know for ages.

As you lnow I love my Kindle but will not stop buying paper books. After Wolf Hall which was a triumph on it, I'm going to choose the next ebook very carefully.

Neezes said...

It's great to hear of people reading more thanks to the K. And my wife has one, so I know well enough what a nice, handy object it is! As for me, I will probably stick to paper editions, as I am less likely to break them ;)

karen ball said...

Book Maven - I think it's a Sharpie permanent marker.

Katherine - how fantastic to hear that the Kindle has been such a boost for the profile of your books.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I don't think the Kindle will break Publishing just as the digital camera didn't break Kodak. Its all part of change. I remember floppy discs Ms Yingling and trying to write a book using an obscure program called Xywrite. Thank heaven we've moved on!

Karen also noticed when I was in 5th Ave Barnes & Noble in October how wonderfully full the chn's department was... both picture books and YA (wrote about this on a past blog)It was great to see so many ABBA blogger authors there amongst the YA!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adele said...

Silly question: if someone writes on your Kindle with a marker pen, doesn't that wreck the device? Cover the whole screen with black squiggles? Am I being SUPER THICK??
I fancy an iPad but not for reading books on...just as a super slim kind of computer!

karen ball said...

Adele - I think readers like the back or margins of their Kindle to be marked permanently with the signature of their beloved author. I don't think it means signing the screen.

Book Maven - great point about Wolf Hall. I never finished that novel because I couldn't face lugging it on the tube. This has interesting implications for authors. They can write the length of novel they want to write and publishers may no longer need to fret as much about the size of a spine. Lots of options open up!

karen ball said...

Re the comments on floppy discs and technological advances: I believe the Kindle and its sisters and brothers are making such an impact because publishers and booksellers are still trying to negotiate exactly what the price points and royalty payments should be and who controls the market. We've never had ebook sales of significance before last year - it's a whole new market. If they get these numbers wrong, it could have massive implications. The problem is, no one really knows what the 'wrong' or 'right' numbers are in these untested waters. I BELIEVE. I am by no means an expert.

Sean Cummings said...

I've been the happy owner of a Sony PRS 505 for the past two years and I still read printed books just as much as I do the ebook reader. I like the convenience of my reader and I still go to the library and borrow books. I'd say I read about 60% on my reader and 40% on paper. I think the new technology can compliment traditional books quite easily, but that's me.

TeriT said...

I also asked for - and received - a Kindle for Christmas. I also admit I had mixed feelings about having one.
BUT I must say: I love it! So easy to carry around; and I got the case with a light in it which is great for reading in bed at night. And it definitely has me reading more than I did before.
I also love that you can get sample chapters of books before you buy them.
And it is brilliant for reading your own - and friends - manuscripts.
It has had me reading classics, like Pride & Prejudice, that I haven't read in many years.
The thing I've been disappointed in is the books I'd love to have on Kindle that aren't available on it!