Ereaders most probably will not replace books

Ereaders are great for people with eyesight problems, too – legibility is excellent these days, and you can alter the text size at will. In America, this feature is making the Kindle relatively popular with older readers. So will the Kindle, or one of its rivals such as the Sony Reader or my ultralight Cybook, become the “iPod of books”, as some are predicting? I’m not so sure.

For one thing, an iPod is easy to use (compared with, say, a CD player). The same is not quite true of an ereader. Navigation is a laborious process. You can’t flick back and forth with the ease that a physical book allows. This leads to a faintly claustrophobic sensation, as if you are trapped on the page you are currently reading.

iPods also allow you to transfer all those Bruce Springsteen or Clash albums you have bought over the years; but if you have a complete collection of Ian McEwan on your bookshelves and want to read one electronically, you’ll have to shell out all over again. And long term, books are enviably robust. Paper decays, but it takes hundreds of years. Surely nobody thinks they will still be accessing their ebooks in the same way in 100, or even 10, years.

Finally, there is the all-important emotional question. An ereader, like all gadgets, is shiny, plastic, artificial. A book is pliable, organic, warm. And that, in the end, is the reason I suspect the ereader will be slow to become a mass-market phenomenon, if indeed it ever does. It works for me because it is an elegant solution to a specific problem – that of carrying heavy books on the Tube. But it won’t work for everyone.

People were happy to switch to iPods because all they were giving up were those soulless CDs. But converting to an ereader would mean giving up something that not only contains a whole imaginative world but one to which we respond in a tactile, sensuous way – in short, something that is halfway human. Books are like old friends, and who wants to give up on them?

From The Telegraph; excerpts, edited by TFW.