By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey, Jack Steel and Thomas Payne)
It’s not really my fault, but the future of publishing is what most people in the industry seem to be talking about at the moment, when they’re not wishing they’d written Fifty Shades instead of EL James and were banking the better part of a million pounds every week. And that’s not a misprint.
Instead of looking at new books and what authors are up to at the moment – the two core components of the industry – most of the comments I’ve seen lately are still far more concerned with the industry as a whole: what does the future hold for agents, publishers and especially for bookshops? The general consensus seems to be that independent bookshops will probably survive, albeit in much smaller numbers than at present, and in order to attract and retain their customers they will have to offer far more to them than just a bunch of books sitting on shelves. They’ll have to do the kind of things that Amazon simply can’t compete with, like offering coffee and cakes and comfy seats while people browse, organizing book signings, author visits and book readings.
And talking about Amazon, the literal ‘elephant in the room’, there will undoubtedly be competition in the future for the bookselling giant, and especially for its single bestselling item, the Kindle. And it looks like the most serious competition to this device will come from the Nook, produced by Barnes & Noble, and especially given the fact that Microsoft has taken a stake in the company, which means that Barnes & Noble now has both serious money and technological know-how behind it.
Which seems like an appropriate moment to mention Amazon’s latest electronic product, the Kindle Fire. I’ve yet to handle one of these devices or even see it in the flesh, but I have to say that I’m not entirely convinced it’s going to enjoy anything like the runaway success of the Kindle itself.
The beauty of the Kindle is that it quite literally provides a library in your pocket. With a capacity of up to 3,500 books, a battery that needs charging only once every three or four weeks, and the ability to download new books wirelessly almost everywhere, it’s very difficult to see why anybody who enjoys reading doesn’t own one. It even makes good financial sense, because of the huge number of ebooks available for free or for under about £3, in contrast to the typical RRP of a paperback novel of around £6.99.
But the Kindle Fire is a very different animal. The most obvious difference is the colour screen on the Fire, and the fact that this device is far more than just a way of reading books. It’s essentially a tablet computer – a long way from being my favourite device – with a seven inch screen that also allows the user to play music, watch films, read colour magazines and a bunch of other things. All of which does, in my opinion, beg the question: why would you want to? Do you really want to sit down and watch a movie on a seven inch screen wearing earphones?
OK, probably some people do. On trains I quite often see people hunched over mobile phones squinting at the tiny screen while some action sequence is displayed on it, to the accompaniment of tinny music leaking from their earphones. God knows what that does to your eyes after a while, but I suppose for these people the jump to the Fire’s much larger screen would be huge improvement. But it will of course mean that they would have to carry both a mobile phone and the Fire.
On the pricing side, it’s not a bad deal, especially when compared to the ludicrously expensive iPad, with the 32GB Fire coming in at only £199, about half the price of the entry-level iPad, and doing pretty much the same things in a far more convenient package.
But I think the biggest problem with the Fire is going to be the battery life. Amazon is claiming that the battery will last for 11 hours. For anybody familiar with claims made by computer companies, that number will be taken with a very large pinch of salt, and probably a more realistic estimate would be 8 to 9 hours, depending on usage. And that, no matter how you much you dress it up, is simply pathetic when compared to the original Kindle.
So if you are thinking about buying one of the new devices principally to read books, don’t bother. Get the old-style one, and you won’t regret it for a moment. But if you really are the kind of person who wants to sit by yourself in a corner somewhere, watching a film on a screen you can cover with the palm of your hand, without a doubt the Fire will be a far better buy for you than the iPad.
On the other hand, maybe you should just get out more …
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