Sony e-reader - the UK's first mainstream e-reader, launched 2008
Last week my book was promoted as a free download for Kindle - as a consequence, it rose quickly up the Amazon rankings and many new people will now get to see my work. I'm delighted; I don't write for the royalties - the more who read Counting Steps the better.
The same can't be said for small booksellers who fear the growth of digital e-readers, regarding them as the final nail in their coffin. UK book sales were down 6% last year (in part due to price reductions), but the headline masks deeper issues. Every year the Internet takes more market share, and it is this shift, more than Kindle or Kobo which is undermining independent bookstores.
A major attraction is price - Amazon sells books at a rate which booksellers can't hope to match. But more than this, Internet retailers are convenient: 24-hour access, unlimited catalogues, free and speedy delivery... Downloads, of course, are immediate - no need even to wait for the postman.
Technology has also transformed international availability. For every one of us who takes a bestseller on holiday, there are thousands more living abroad benefitting from access to English language titles that was once inconceivable. Before we rant at the evils of digitisation we might pause a moment for the positive impact on millions in the developing world - they seldom, by the way, download bestsellers. (Their determination to self improve is an inspiring topic in itself)
For all this, we still have an attachment to bookstores - and libraries for that matter. There's a special pleasure in the process of browsing; knowledgeable staff can be a boon, and there remains something to be said for the physical experience of holding a book, flicking its pages, feeling the weight... Interestingly, children's books have fared relatively well in traditional stores.
By any standard, the Charlton's are heavy book buyers - over 100 a year. Being candid I purchase the vast majority online; second choice, the local bookstore; third the Kindle (my original Sony e-reader is now virtually ancient technology); and very occasionally, the library which is increasingly depressing to visit. So I suppose we support all types - even the local car-boot!
On a lighter note, I smile at the marketeers' need to define these new formats. There's a rather ugly tendency in the media to talk of 'hard copy and digital content'. Amazon more elegantly refers to Print and Kindle books - but is silent on the existence of competitors. I've even seen reference to 'bound books', 'traditional format' and my favourite - 'physical books' - as opposed to metaphysical ones?
Quite what's wrong with 'books', I don't know.