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Curling up with a good e-book just isn't the same


Kindle success: author E L James

Kindle success: author E L James

Kindle success: author E L James

People who are quick to buy new gadgets are known as 'early adopters'. People who are reluctant to move with the times and acquire new technologies have long been known as Luddites (after the workers who smashed up new machines in the industrial revolution).

Is there a word for the people in between, who master as much new technology as they need to, but no more? That's me.

I duly acquired the tools of the electronic age that were necessary and I acknowledge the convenience of the mobile phone and wireless internet connections. But how far should you go in embracing every aspect of modern gadgetry?

Books, for example. We all buy books on Amazon. And everyone likes a bargain. But online shopping has closed bookshops everywhere.

The great thing about a bookshop is that you can browse. You can go in and turn the pages of a book to see whether you might like to buy it.

But, if trends continue as they are, there will soon be no more bookshops. Except for the big chains that sell other stuff as well, and focus, understandably, on the hyped bestsellers, rather than the quirky.

For a while now, I've heard people enthuse about reading e-books on Kindle and other such electronic readers. People told me the Kindle was wonderful for holidays, as you don't have to carry 12 books with you to Thailand.

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So, eventually, a couple of months ago, I acquired a Kindle and began to download books. And, yes, e-books are cheaper and some books that are well out of copyright can be acquired for free.

So agreed: electronic books are cheaper and they don't take up as much space. And my verdict after six weeks on the Kindle? Yes, it's okay-ish. It's easy to operate and I've no problem reading via a screen. But I can't say I have developed any feeling of attachment to the e-book format. Maybe I downloaded the wrong books. I acquired Gone Girl, because everyone was raving about it, but I'm still only 15% into the text.

My bookshop method of assessing books – browsing through real books, flicking over a few pages – was, for me, a better way of choosing a book.

Yes, the e-book heralds a revolutionary step in publishing. It will alter the content of books as well as the way of reading.

Fifty Shades of Grey author E L James owes her success to its initial publication as an e-book. Publishers say that the e-book is reviving the novella – short novels under 50,000 words – and the short story.

Publishers also admit that they used to 'bulk out' books – made them unnecessarily long – to justify the cover price. With e-books, they can be any length and that doesn't affect the budgets.

Mind you, authors will be earning less with e-books because the royalty is so tiny. But print books are fighting back, by emphasising the book as a beautiful artifact, with memorable jackets.

Print books are also exploring new formats – the graphic novel, written in cartoon form, is reaching the English-speaking market. It's huge in France, where you can read everything from Sartre to Celine in picture-book format.

Maybe the future will be a mixture of print and electronics – talking books, too, via CD, or iPods. I love spoken-word books, especially when great actors speak the words.

I am naturally pleased that my biography of William Joyce – Lord Haw-Haw – called Germany Calling has recently been issued in an e-book form: more people are accessing it.

All the same, I still like to curl up with a real, old-fashioned tome, with words printed on paper.

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