It was announced last week that ebooks made up 20% of Random House’s sales worldwide in the first six months of this year. Zillions of readers have enthusiastically embraced the digital age and with good reason. Social media and books work beautifully together; since blogging I’ve had the kind of exchanges that I’ve missed having with booksellers when I was one myself or worked with them. We’re all much more polite than many who comment on newspaper sites shouting the kind of stuff which would have them chucked out of their local pub. Ironic, then, that ebooks have such an anti-social side to them.
It’s impossible to strike up a conversation with ebook readers on the train having recognised their book’s cover unless you’re prepared to admit to having nosily read over their shoulder for some time. Many other pleasures enjoyed by nosy readers are endangered. No scanning bookshelves in other people’s homes on a first visit – illustrated book spines are particularly useful for this if you’re some way from the shelves. No straining to see what’s on the shelf when people are interviewed on TV or websites. No sharing books with friends and family although the upside to this is that there’s no resentment at the non-returned book, slight or seething depending on the state of relations. And then there’s the question of what happens to bookshops.
There are, of course, a multitude of advantages to ebooks, not least easing the dilemma of which (and how many) books to take on holiday. One that doesn’t seem much talked about is how useful they are if your sight deteriorates. H’s father loves his ereader having despaired of what was on offer in large print editions. However, given the state of the TBR shelves and the dangers inherent in a virtual TBR pile I’m sticking with paper for now.