I’ve been writing this blog for a few months now, commenting on books I’ve read, on my own writing, and on anything Lit-related as it has caught my eye in the press (okay, mainly in The Guardian), but I have consciously avoided writing about the main story of the last few years – the rise and rise of the e-reader and the electronic book.
Partly this has been because I would be doing nothing more than adding my voice to an already deafening roar of commentary. Every week (nearly every day) brings an op-ed piece in the book chat pages about the decline of the old publishing model, the rise of Internet publishing, and the increasing dominance of the various e-readers in publishers’ calculations. The “agency model” furore about e-book pricing, and the exclusive deals some authors, such as Ian McEwan, have made with retailers like Amazon, are clear indications that this is becoming a major problem. Combined with the inevitable restructuring of Waterstone’s, the last high street book chain, in the New Year (i.e.: the near-certainty that at least a fifth of their branches will have to close), this is the biggest shake-up of the industry since the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement.
I worked for many years in bookselling, I write book reviews for a couple of magazines and journals, and I’m trying to get a novel published – I have more than a passing interest in the subject. I’m by no means an expert though, and apart from my former colleagues on the front line in the shops, I don’t really have any industry insiders passing me scoops. I haven’t seen the point of writing about the subject in anything but the most cursory way.
Now, however, I have a slightly different perspective, as a result of my new, shameful secret … I have acquired an E-Reader Device! (I’m writing this blog entry on it as we speak – well, as I type). For the first time, I could speak from a position of some authority, as a reader who has experienced the new style of literary consumption. Except, I haven’t actually read anything on it yet (apart from some comics, but they don’t count … ) I have a few free books on it, including G.K. Chesterton’s “What’s Wrong With the World”, which I need to read for the Free State essay I’m going to write, but I haven’t been quite able to part with the money for a new download. At root, if there’s a book I’m willing to pay £7 or £8 for, then I would want the physical book to put on my shelf when I have finished it.
Over the festive season though, I’m going to give myself the challenge of reading something brand-new on this thing. In the interests of science, I’m going to buy a new release, and read it cover to cover on something that would make me howl with grief if I were to drop it in the bath.
Now *that’s* dedication …