Monday, 7 September 2009

The Sony Reader

I feel it is time for a moan. It's only tangentially related to disability but, what the heck, it's my blog. I have a love. No, not the small, bobbed haired light of my life, but those things with long strings of words and a narrative, books. I have always loved books, ever since John and Janet watched Spot run and helped me to associate the little squiggles on the page with words in my head. My grandparents had lots of books and so did my parents. I have thousands, even though in the last year or so I have had to give away many hundreds for want of space. I am not unduly precious about books. I do not insist that a paperback's spine remains pristine and I will not do you actual physical injury if you turn down the corner of a page, though I may whimper. Books are, after all, meant to be read.

I don't go anywhere without a book. Polly will tell you that I had a book tucked down the side of my wheelchair when we got married, just in case there was a lull in the proceedings. Once, when I was in an Intensive Care Unit and in an induced coma, the hospital rang Polly in the middle of the night, anxious because I would not settle. She arrived to find my left arm fidgeting and grasping and at risk of pulling out the various cannulae that were keeping me alive. “He wants his book,“ she told the bemused nurses and placed a paperback in my hand, whereupon I apparently relaxed and didn't come to for four days. You take my point? Books are important to me.

I tell you all this, not to impress you with my literacy, because I generally read popular fiction not high-brow Whitbread prize winning literature and it's been a while since I read anything that might be deemed a classic. (Scroll down on the right to see a list.) No, I tell you this because I want you to understand how upsetting and stressful certain changes in my condition have become when I find myself unable to manipulate and hold up some books. Not all books, thank God, but hardback books and paperbacks over a certain size. During the day it is not quite so bad because I can rest the book on a table and using various bits and pieces as weights can hold the pages open. It's a bit tedious when I want to turn the page but it works. At night, however, reading in bed is another matter. Constraints caused by BiPap masks and necessary sleeping positions mean that holding a book, virtually any book, is hard work. Holding CJ Sansom's 500 page Revelation or Ken Follett's 900 page epic The Pillars Of The Earth is nigh on impossible.

But then, Oh Happy Day! Sony came to my rescue. Late last year the Sony Reader came to our shores. An electronic device that can store in excess of 120 books (and you can buy a memory card that raises this to several thousand) displayed on a non-flicker screen using Sony's patented e-ink. Gadget heaven. To turn a page you just press a button. You can even change the font size. Sony have done a deal with Waterstones (and now, apparently, WH Smiths) to publish books in the appropriate Adobe Digital Editions format which you can download from their web-site.

As with the early days of online digital music, not all books are available in the format yet, but a fair number are. I still have to buy paperback editions of some of my favourite authors such as Christopher Brookmyre, Bernard Knight and Susanna Gregory, but presumably, given time, someone will notice these grievous lapses and deal with such shortcomings in the available library.

So, how much do you think these e-books, where available, cost? Remember there are no warehouse storage costs, no shop with shelf space to rent, no paper or ink to buy, no presses to run, no postage for delivery, and no shop workers to pay. You do still have royalties, web-space and web-design to pay for and a legitimate profit to make. Should an e-book cost the same or less than a paperback? A hard back? Bear in mind that you probably want people to buy material in the new format so you presumably want it to be competitively priced.

Well let's see, shall we? The new Simon Scarrow novel The Gladiator has just been published in hardback. I can buy it from for £8.09, for £10.79 from WH Smith, and for £12.99 from Waterstones. In Adobe Digital Format for the Sony e-reader? It costs £14. 09! That's six pounds more than a hardback version from Amazon (including free delivery with Amazon prime).

There! I told you I was going to moan. I can't help thinking that Sony and Waterstones are doing themselves no favours. I for one can't wait for Amazon's Kindle e-reader to arrive in the UK. Then, at last, we'll have competition to drive prices down.

I wouldn't enjoy life so much without my e-reader but I do feel I'm being taken advantage of. Now, I had better pay some attention to the other love of my life.

Until next time. .


  1. But just think, Stephen, how long it takes somebody to read the hardback and then type that into the right format for your e-reader, labour costs are still very high and if they don't sell many of them then ....!!! LOL

    Seriously, though, it's always the first people to take up new technology who pay the most, and all for the privilege of finding out what needs to be changed!

    Let's hope they realise what damage they are doing to the take-up of this excellent way of publishing books before it kills the idea in its prime.

  2. I've read that the Kindle formats can have mistakes because of the automated conversation process, and they are not checked for accuracy as much as the original books are. Can't verify that though.

  3. There are more mistakes in the Kindle--I wouldn't use it for academic sourcing, but it works fine for popular reading. Popular books can be more expensive, but some classics you can get for free or nearly free, plus on my Kindle, we can upload PDFs, so books that are public domain and already made available through Gutenberg or other formats can be uploaded rather than purchased.

  4. Also, I don't know if this would be of use, but here's a page turner that came out last fall:
    This is a new version and I haven't seen reviews, but I've heard that other versions are exorbitantly expensive.

    When my spine has been at its worst, I could use one to hold the book and then turn the page without me having to take it out (I have book holders but they don't work as well).

  5. Luxury items cost more than common ones.Skoda cars are not as sought after as Volkswagen Caddys, so it follows that with your expensive gadget you are now a luxury consumer and can be classed as POSH (Port out...etc). Personally I prefer goods made in China, where I know it makes a difference to their economy,and they carefully invest in another power station to ensure I get my plastic novelty toy. When the Chinese start copying/pirating e-books the cost will come down,rest assured. There is a little man who knocks at my door selling DVD's,you can usually see him standing up to go to the toilet in most of his DVD's.The next time he calls I could ask him to knock out Simon Scarrow's 'When The Eagle Hunts' in Kindle e-reader and drop it round for you. Just remember their wood pulp books are a bit confusing being written the wrong way round and in a language you may take some years to come to understand, so don't expect too much from his first efforts. Not sure how he will get round the subtitles,it may look like overwriting, but at least you will be getting value for money if you calculate how long it would take to read and enjoy such a high class product,unlike if you had bought a Skoda.

  6. Hey dude, I too have fsh and I am trying to find out about all this BiPAP stuff. Plz read my post on the MDC Community page. Its headed 'Oxygen supplementation without mechanical ventilation'. Without going too much into detail I can't pin anyone down about this. You seem to me like an intelligent man ..-.. so you can tell I have problems. Look forward to your response. Paul - lauP

  7. Of course you could just go down the Bit Torrent route.....but as that is technically illegal in many countries and you are bound to be caught you may not want to go there....offically!

    Mind you, I had a little browse. The selection aint great unless you are looking for an owners manual for a Skoda, teenage best seller French and 1001 Hindu jokes (I kid you not.)

    Like all things'll be as cheap as chips in 12 ask any child that's trying to flog Playstation 1 games.

    Happy hunting


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