"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly 92 million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea." Douglas Adams
So, while I know that it is lazy journalism to base a blog on one piece of research, by far the best piece of industry news I have had in recent weeks has been this piece of research commissioned by Heathrow airport. Coming as it did, just after I filled in the futurebook survey about the future of ebooks it is almost impossible not to comment on it.
The key stat for me is that 67% of the two thousand people questioned said they preferred reading paperbacks to ebooks. Not didn’t have an ereader or a smartphone or a tablet, but preferred reading legacy books.
Why? Because they are better than e-books. They feel nice in the hand, they are harder to damage, no one will steal them , you can skim backwards and forwards, lend them, throw them and they do not need charging.
E-books are great for people who read by the yard, for greedy genre gluttons, but for the rest of us, those who read a variety of books in a variety of genres and who are not looking for an endlessly repeated and unvarying experience e-books are a lousy alternative to the real thing.
One might almost say that any book which it is worth reading, AM Holmes’ May We Be Forgiven or Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise, for instance, are pretty much unreadable on an e-reader.
Of course one can physically read them, but, and perhaps I am a particularly inattentive reader, my experience of both of those books would be severely diminished if I was unable to flick back and check things.
It is easy with a paperback. The analogue pages fit neatly to our analogue brains and I find I can find what I am looking for easily and without fuss. That is not – and will never be – possible with an e-reader.
On top of this, these are both books I am pleased to have read. I looked forward, while on holiday to bringing them back with me and contemplating the fact of having read them by placing them on my bookshelves in the company of other books I have read.
The ownership of them matters to me – not just out of some base possessiveness or because I like to signal to my acquaintances how clever I am by the books on my shelves but because my conversation with those books, my reading of them if you like, does not end when I turn the final page.
It carries on.
So, why the Douglas Adams quote at the beginning? Well, because people are going to say that I am a luddite. That I am in denial about the digital future we are destined to inhabit.
To which I say, get over it chimps, the digital future is neither as exciting or as all encompassing as you think.