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canoe river jungle

I now use a canoe to shop on Amazon…but it’s not convenient

I got a Kindle a few months back. It’s pretty good even though I have to wrestle with the moral conflicts of fueling the Amazon Empire which some commentators than me are ceasing to do.

I got one mainly because I have a quite hideous 1 hour 40 minute commute which involves sitting on a very old, very slow train for most of that time. Having a collection of books, magazines, blog posts and journal articles at my finger tips is therefore a godsend.

Choosing what to read via Amazon however is proving a difficult and frustrating process. Previously upon browsing for a non-specific book I’d generally visit a bookshop or a library and have a mooch. In fact it’s one of my favourite pastimes. Browsing say detective fiction in a bookshop is pretty easy to do you just look at the sides of books and make an informed decision.

Not so easy when browsing Amazon’s site. Even with it’s category breakdowns you can be slowly trudging through page after page of millions of books at a time. It’s fine if you’re looking specifically for something but browsing is difficult.

I am increasingly reliant on Amazon’s recommendations which whilst pretty accurate do rather reinforce what I’ve already read and remove that joy of finding something totally new or rare in a bookshop.

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A book in chainsWhen you own a book, a ‘real’ book that is, you’d have to be pretty far along the road to loopyville not to know how to open it and read it. Almost anyone can pick up a book from 100 years ago and, provided it’s in good enough condition, open it and read it. Will they be able to do the same with an ebook in 100 years time however? In fact will they be able to open and read an ebook in 25 years time?

It’s a valid question. 25 years ago very few people owned a personal computer, hardly anyone had even heard of the internet, floppy disks and cassettes were used for storage and I was just about walking and talking. It’s therefore entirely possible that ebooks and e-resources available in today’s formats will not be as readily available in the future. And that’s only the software problem, what happens when hardware becomes obsolete?

I for one am a big fan of ebooks and Kindles and all things shiny but I also love ‘real’ books. Ultimately if it came to an expensive book  I’d sooner shell out money on something I know I’ll be able to open in a few years time.

a kindle next to a pile of print booksThe enormous success of e-readers has led some commentators to suggest that soon no print books will be published. This reminded me of the amended titular quote by Paul Delaroche who supposedly said in 1840 that “today painting is dead” upon seeing the Daguerreotype (the earliest form of photographic process). 170 years on and painting has not died, it is no longer as dominant an artistic medium as it once was but it’s still integral to artistic practice for students of the subject.

This analogy can be taken further. The reason painting has not died is because photography is not a like-for-like replacement. The same can be said of a Kindle compared to a print book. Even as colour screen e-readers become the norm they won’t replace a printed book. And it’s not because of some intangible, nostalgic reason it’s because a printed book fulfils a different objective to an e-reader. You can’t, for example, fill a bookcase with e-books. You can’t browse e-books in the same way as print books. I, as a Kindle owner and lover of print books find the general accession of information considerably easier via a bookshop or library shelf than a web page on Amazon.

And these few factors alone are why print books won’t die out.

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