Why not curl up with a good screen?

Caption: E-READERS: forget the nostalgia, consider the convenience.

Is it bye-bye books as paperback meets pixels? TERENCE KENNEDY suggests that clinging to print confuses the plate with the food.  

A FRIEND now has 2,000 books in his home and will soon have to camp in his garden. I carry 2,000 books in my back pocket.

By next year a quarter of all worldwide book sales will be electronic, in a market worth 17 billion euros. You know it makes sense: are several gazillion copies of the latest E.L. James bonkbuster really worth felling the world’s forests, and then flooding Oxfam shops with books they no longer actually want or can sell?

Yes I know there’s nothing to beat the feel of a ‘real’ book, or my own guilty secret, that evocative smell when you get your hooter right down there between the pages.

But forget the nostalgia, consider the convenience. A flash of your credit card, a touch on your screen and voilà, there’s this week’s bestseller on your Kindle, Kobo or Nook. Or for cheapskates like me there are literally millions more for gratis out there, from the astonishing 54,000 freebies in Project Gutenberg, to Amazon’s free ebooks lists.  

Proper e-readers are simple one-trick ponies: they display text, the whole text and nothing but the text. E-reading on a smartphone or tablet is certainly an option, but monochrome e-ink is kinder on the eyes than traditional backlit LCD screens, and dedicated e-readers like Kindles, Kobos or Nooks can run for weeks on a battery charge. 

You can buy a no-nonsense e-reader for the price of just two or three dead-tree books, and unlike so many of today’s gadgets they’ll last for years; I have an ancient Kindle still going strong without a battery change after six years of reading 496 e-books (yes, I’m one of those pedantic book-counters and list-keepers. Hey, we all have our crosses to bear).

Sure there are drawbacks. Although some providers like Amazon let you share a book among family members, you can’t easily pass it on – though digital lending libraries are gaining ground. And proper ebook devices (the best type for serious readers) still only display in black and white despite years of coloured e-ink predictions.

The convenience is unsurpassed. No more dragging bulky holiday reading around the world to bust your back and the EasyJet baggage limit. Instant gratification when you want a book: find it online, click it, own it. No more struggling with fine print for those approaching their sell-by dates: just pump up the font size. 

And an added bonus: no more disapproving glances from those in public places as we try ineffectually to hide our fifty shades of whatever.

VHS vs Betamax – again

SINCE ebooks began a decade ago there’s been a ‘VHS vs Betamax’ slugfest of formats. We’re down to two main contenders: Amazon’s proprietary Kindle type, and what was intended to be the universal EPUB format found on most others.

Like music and movies, paid-for ebooks have copyright protection, and this ‘DRM’ means they can’t easily be switched between systems or devices. But for the millions of free ebooks online there are simple ways of converting between formats, most notably with the free Calibre program, which can also deliver thousands of the world’s magazines and newspapers free to your e-reader.

Still dubious about deserting your beloved print-books? Then consider the internet’s most popular verdict by tech guru Stephen Fry: “Books are no more threatened by Kindles than stairs by elevators.”