e-books 07-10-2009

the kindle e-book has just been launched in the uk. i'm still wondering what it's for. books are one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world. they're cheap and portable. you can read them in blazing sunlight. you can drop them in the bath, stamp on them, bury them in sand and stick them in the oven. their batteries don't run down, they insulate a room excellently from noise and sound and when you're finished with them you can give them to a friend or a local oxfam bookshop. the only good reason for having 60 digital books in an unreliable battery-powered device is if you're stuck for a long period in a part of the world that has no good shops selling books in your own language and a reliable power supply. actually, that's not quite true, there is another good reason, but it only applies if you're a large corporation selling e-readers. it turns reading books into a way of making more money. it destroys the democracy of reading by preventing you borrowing other people's books and it forces you to buy a new device (and new contents) every time yours breaks down.

e-readers are like the sinclair c5. they've been aimed at a non-existent gap in the market. when podcasts came along they felt like something the world had been waiting for. we no longer had to sit in the kitchen or in the car while listening to radio 4 or a favourite audiobook. we could do it on the bus or while walking to work. e-books just complicate and commercialise something we were doing very well already on our own, thank you.

e-readers will take off when you can upload text files and spreadsheets, those sheaves of paper and reports and typescripts that fill people's briefcases on the morning train and end up in the bin by the end of the day. but e-bumph is just not as romantic a word as e-book.