Mention Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader and you are sure to spark an argument between ‘paper’ and ‘digital’ with many people stressing how much they love the touch and feel of paper (and even the smell). Of course, that did not stop them from moving from letters to e-mail, but that is another story. For another time, perhaps. The stark fact is however, that although I do not have any problems reading on a digital display (hey, I use it for news and messages, why not books?), the REAL reasons why I find myself increasingly favouring the Kindle for my book reading have nothing to do with the paper vs digital argument.
No, they have to do with two other issues that affect book lovers as much as reading books themselves: availability and storage.
If you are a reader of conventional paper books (and most people are), then you will be familiar with the process of getting one: most people go to a bookstore and see if they can find the books they are looking for or just browse casually, and some others go to an e-commerce website and order the books which are then delivered to them at a later date. In the first case, you have to travel to the bookstore, budget for the fact that the bookstore is open only for specific hours and might NOT have what you are looking for. In the second, the chances of the book being unavailable are smaller, but there is a significant time lag between purchasing the book and getting it (a day if you are lucky). Then there is the matter of storage – I have never seen a real book lover who has enough space and book racks to store all the books they buy. Inevitably, some end up on the floor, below beds and in dusty corners, often forgotten because the “out of sight, out of mind” principle is applicable as much to books as humans.
Now let’s look at the Kindle e-book reader, shall we? It gives you access to the Kindle Book Store at any place at any time, as long as you have an Internet connection (some Kindles are 3G compatible and all support Wi-Fi). So you can go to the bookstore at literally any time (even if you are half asleep in the wee hours of the day), browse around and choose to buy books or otherwise. The number of books out there runs into millions and books are often released in digital form at the same time as their print edition, and sometimes before them as well (especially in India, where print editions can take their own sweet time getting to book racks – we had Satya Nadella’s book available online a few days before it reached stores in Delhi!). E-books are rarely out of stock (you can never run out of copies, an e-book goes out of stock only because the publisher withdraws it). And well, unlike in bookstores, you get to see reader reviews of books right away and also similar titles. There is also the little matter of being able to download a free sample of any book you like – about 20-30 pages that more often than not are enough to tell you whether you will like the book or not.
So, an always open bookstore with millions of titles. Which brings us to storage. I have about four thousand paper books with me, which not only makes shifting house one hell of an exercise (ask my mum!), but also makes arranging them and remembering which one is where quite a task. Well, the fact is that the whole lot could easily into a single Kindle. And could be carried anywhere – a Kindle weighs about as much as a regular paperback bestseller. I could search for a title easily and find it within seconds. So I would literally have my entire book collection with me wherever I go. And even if my Kindle itself runs out of space, I can keep my books on the Amazon cloud (infinite storage for books purchased from the Kindle store) and download them whenever I wished. Let’s face it – it is book portability at another level. No, you cannot flaunt your book collection the way you can on a book rack or even in your hands, but then hey, I prefer to read books rather than be seen reading them.
This is not to detract from the value paper books bring to our lives. I still firmly believe that they are better for viewing images and graphic novels (minus the zooming in factor) and well, they have been a part of our lives for so long that one obviously feels more comfortable and familiar with them. But for me – and I might be a lone case – books have always been about reading. About the words. And if I can get them at any time, at any place…well, then touch and feel and a familiar medium take a backseat. At the end of the day, it is about reading for me. Any book I want. At any time I wish.
The Kindle gives me that.
Which is the main reason why paper books lost.