I’m delighted to have a guest post today from Megan Hopkins, one of Author Attic’s writers, today. Megan takes a look at the Kindle (and e-readers in general), discussing one of the most debated questions of today’s literary aficionados: whether ebooks spell the end of paper books and traditional publishing.

 Image from Flickr by kodomut

Who doesn’t love the smell of a new book?

Well, Kindle owners aren’t all that keen on it. They prefer the convenience of digital reading. For the Kindle enthusiast, bookshelves are unnecessary, reading in the bath might be a shockingly bad idea and their books occasionally run out of battery mid-chapter. On the bright side, they can take thousands of books on holiday without overweight baggage restrictions kicking in.

Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

The Growth of E-Readers

The original Amazon Kindle was released in November 2007 at $399 and sold out in six hours. Today, consumers can pay as little as $69, and Kindles are hardly the only e-readers available. Affordable e-readers range from the Nook to the iPad to Samsung’s Papyrus. Smartphone and tablet users can also download a free Kindle app.

It seems inevitable that a slim pocket-book sized library will easily trump heavyweight paper books. A Kindle’s storage capabilities are perfectly in sync with our modern minimalist lifestyle. E-readers come with all sorts of benefits which books lack: enlargeable print for the short-sighted, a screen designed to reduce eye strain and search features.

Are Paper Books Dying?

Many bookshops are incorporating coffee shops and marketing events in an effort to attract people to the ‘real-life’ paper versions of literature. Despite these changes, an IHS iSuppli report predicted that the sale of paper books will decline at 5% a year. For hundreds of years, the publishing industry has focused its effort upon paper and ink literature, and unless it evolves with the times, it will certainly become obsolete.

Publishers are not unnecessary, however, and production is not cost-free. All ebooks are typeset and formatted, their front covers designed and they are distributed and advertised. Interestingly, a third of bestselling eBooks are more expensive than the same book on paper. On Amazon, Rowling’s recent adult novel, the Casual Vacancy, costs £11.99. The hardback is £9. Last month, evidence was found of several publishing houses conspiring with Apple to increase ebook prices contrary to EU competition rules.

This seems rather unfair given that the production of eBooks is inexpensive compared to paper books. Ebooks are more environmentally friendly than their ‘dead-tree’ counterparts, requiring no paper, ink or petrol to transport them to their destination.

[Ali’s note: in many cases, self-publishing are undercutting big publishers’ prices – one of the reasons for the success of the indie author movement!]

Are Publishers No Longer Necessary?

Literature has never been dependent upon publishers, and will continue to endure and hold its own. Something in the human psyche demands stories. Literature evolved from the spoken word tradition, with primitive tribes often sharing lore around the fire. When hand-made illuminated scripts took over from storytelling, authors lost personal contact with the audience, and readers lost an entire dimension of fiction as a collective experience. The Gutenberg press, in turn, ousted the beautiful artistic books of that age.

The digital age is just another step for literature. But once again, humanity loses the sensory element of reading as we graduate to another level of technology. You can’t ruffle a thumb along the page corners of an eBook. You can’t smell fresh ink or hear the flick of paper leaves. You can’t use it to prop up a wobbly table or smash a blue-bottle.

However, it seems unlikely that even the most steadfast traditionalist will grow nostalgic about paper cuts.

 

Megan Hopkins is 23, studied law, works at an icecream shop and writes for Author Attic. She is fueled by Diet Coke and vitamin C.

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Over to you … what’s your take on this? Are Kindles (and ebooks in general) the future, or just a passing fad? Will paper books ever die out? What about the publishing industry? Megan and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.