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. .