Thursday, 29 December 2011

Kindle Christmas

So I unwrapped a Kindle on Christmas morning and here are some initial observations.

Reading on a Kindle is fine, no problems. It's great to be able to instantly download books although super-frustrating when you arrive at your mother-in-law's to find she has no idea what her wifi password might be. The screen is fine, turning pages is fine - blah di blah - if you have a problem reading on a Kindle then you should seek psychological assistance - it's no BIG deal.

What I have found to be frustrating has more to do with the UK government and publishers than devices I think. Let me outline some of the main issues as I see them.

1: If there has ever been a Dickensian Christmas then this was it. 200 year anniversary on the horizon, Ray Winston and Agent Scully in Great Expectations and a Claire Tomalin biography to drool over. All good until you come to thinking about reading the Tomalin biography. As a book it is priced on the cover at £30. That is the kind of thing that makes Indy booksellers weep. That cover price is one hardly anyone will pay. It is the price only the most devoted and deep pocketed could contemplate paying when it costs so much just to stay warm at present. On Amazon the book is priced at £14.85 - less than half. But the e-book is £17.99.

I have seen the book. It is beautiful. Lovely end-papers, clever design. Lovely. So why pay more for a grey bland Kindle version? PUBLISHERS IT MAKES NO SENSE TO ORDINARY PEOPLE! That £17.99 is of course inflated by the %20 VAT slapped on top. E-books are electronic services? Only to robots! GOVERNMENT IT MAKES NO SENSE! If books are zero rated then e-books should be too. End of. Ignore the EU diktat - you do it when it suits the bankers.

2: The previews of books are often so stupid I can't help thinking publishers are deliberately being obstructive. Using the Tomalin as an example again you scroll through page after page of contents, lists of illustrations and maps before arriving at a massive cast list. The Prologue kicks in half way through the preview. Two thirds of the way through the preview we arrive at what we wanted - a bit of the book that allows the reader to get a flavour of the work. Why not produce a more intelligent preview? Is it just to spite Amazon? If so it really fails as all it does is frustrate a potential reader and give them the idea that the e-book has been produced by numskulls. I had a similar experience with Grossman's Life and Fate last night. Half of the preview taken up with title pages and other bits of books that I am not remotely interested in.

3: If you buy a print book you should get a licence to read the e-book as well. Once again this is a fact that will upset publishers as it makes little economic sense to them but nonetheless it is an issue that will encourage piracy if ignored. I want to read the Tomalin. I want the physical book. I will pay £14.85 for it but wouldn't it be great if I could read it on my Kindle/phone etc? Then I wouldn't have to lug the physical book around. I could keep that on the shelf and caress it with my eyes and hands in moments of bookish abandon (of which, dear reader, there are many). But when I am travelling around I would have the book electronically in my pocket. Beautiful. But no. I am therefore left tempted to download a pirate copy of the e-book as well as buying the physical copy. Is this really what publishers want? Cos it will happen! There must be a way to grant a license to the purchaser of the physical book that allows them to download the e-book for free. A way must be found and fast. Otherwise publishers will have real problems with piracy.

So there are some initial thoughts.

PS I just read and article about short stories in the Guardian here. Then I went to Amazon and downloaded a preview of the Don Delillo book The Angel Esmerelda and other stories. The e-book is priced at £8.35 compared to the eye-watering £16.99 of the print edition, though to buy the hardback from Amazon costs £9.17 making the e-book look expensive all of a sudden. I read the preview and it stopped at a point where I was unclear if that was just the end of the story or if the preview had just ended. The effect was to leave me confused and frustrated. Either it was a story that just ended - I hate stories that just end and leave you running like Wiley Coyote. Or the publisher was being mean and would only let a strict percentage of the book be previewed. Either way I was pissed off enough not to buy the book! (Though I did appreciate Delillo's description of someone deep into reading a book as "unreachable, as though massively stunned".

There are a lot of things to sort out. So far this new era of publishing feels like a total mess! But kind of fun too...


  1. Thanks for posting those thoughts. Points 1 & 3 I couldn't agree more with. As someone who has tried to resist the lure of the e-reader, and will no doubt succumb eventually, they were much appreciated. Other than the points you posted do you think that the availability of kindle versions is at an acceptable level?

  2. Just another thought. Given the amount of kindles that must be in use in the UK is there not a case for lobbying the government, via an email petition, to force them to debate the vat issue?

  3. Hi tonterre - thanks for the comments.

    I am happy with the level of Kindle availability at present. I understand that there are some conversion issues and it will take time to digitise all those books. Google, project Gutenberg and others have made great strides with out of copyright material and most of it is reasonably formatted and fine to read on Kindle.

    I have noticed that some publishers are not digitising new books though. There is no Kindle edition of New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani for example. The publisher - Dedalus - is small and operates on an Arts Council subsidised budget. However I have produced e-books myself with a minimun of expertise and know it can be done for zero cost discounting publishing costs that have already been incurred with producing the print edition. Why don't they have a Kindle one then? Seems a little luddite.

    Regarding VAT the UK government recently decided to do nothing about this issue.

    You can petition here: