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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

E-Reading on the Tube - The Future of the Book

Last night I went to an excellent round table event hosted at
Random House on The Future of the Book. It was part of the a series of events run by the if:book London think tank. I joined a mixed group of interesting people - publishers, writers, digital folk & people from literary & reading organisations in a discussion about the opportunities and possible losses to literature brought about by e-readers.

Gadget Man - Interesting e-reader on the Tube

Chris Meade, our chair, had just received his e-reader similar to the one I saw above on the Tube a few years ago. He said he was greeted by sharp intakes of breath and horror when he showed it to some bookish friends. Yet Naomi, a writer who also did creative things with games had an iLiad and she was a real convert to it. She said whenever she got it out on the Tube people stared at it and asked her what it was.

I must admit I had no idea what the e-reader was when I took a picture of it in November 2005. It turns out that the guy was way ahead of his time with his Vaio Sony U101. At the time this was a Japanese only release and about the size of two DVD's weighing less than 2 pounds! So very much like a book.

When I saw the newer Sony Ebook reader for the first time last week (Tom Reynolds had one from the US which we pored over in the post Eden Lake screening pub chat). I had that sort of shuddery instant recoil response as to me it just didn't look or feel like a book. Yet the guys with me had a major "nerdgasm" over it.

There was a similar response last night. People could see the potential and loved that you could carry 100 books around at once and it's handy for London Underground commutes or holiday travel.

Kate Pullinger and Dorothy Meade

One of my favourite authors Kate Pullinger was there (a shock when I saw her as I had no idea she would be at the evening) & she felt quite depressed & let down when seeing it. We'd all seen the hype about these readers for years with headlines screaming that it meant "the death of the book", yet for her it was cold looking with no colour. In spite of the moleskin cover it didn't feel like a book to her.

We had an interesting discussion about whether sales of the e-reader would take off like sales of the iPod which is now a standard fare for most commuters. Amazon expect to sell 400,000 of their Kindle devices this year and that's the same amount of iPods sold when they launched. However, in year two Apple sold 900,000 and in year three, 4.3 million. We all doubted that this would happen with e-readers.

Books in multi-media formats and creative reading was discussed, where people got the opportunity to interact with authors & books. Up until then no one had really mentioned blogs, so I piped up & said that some individual blogs got thousands of readers each day & if consumers were brave enough to "consume" stories in this way, why couldn't publishers be braver about publishing more blogs or even supporting younger authors who wanted blogs?

I'm sure other people at the event will blog about the debate much more eloquently than me, but one thing was certain - nothing was certain. No one knew what the future of the book was and what the next big reading "thing" would be for the UK.

Rose Tremain Orange Ad at Hammersmith

When I left Random House after a lovely buffet & wine, I suddenly remembered that they published Rose Tremain, another author I like. You've probably seen her ads for Orange all over the Tube recently

Rose Tremain Orange Ad on Northern Line

The ads try to show how who we are is made up from so many other people. Rose says "I am the eyes of my readers on the Underground".

Reading Rose Tremain on the Tube

It would be exciting if e-books and e-readers enabled those Underground readers to interact & engage more with Rose and other authors. Unlike the internet, currently there's no sharing or response back to the book & its author.

On the Tube home, I bumped into Chris Meade and his wife Hattie from Snug & Outdoor who had also been at the event. We chatted about blogs & the Tube & stuff and it turns out that Chris Meade's mum - Dorothy Meade - edited "Lines on the Underground" (pictured on my bookshelf above). It's one of my absolute favourite anthologies about the London Underground and has been my bible of Tube references in literature for years! It was a lovely surprising end to a fab night. Many thanks to Random House for hosting & also thanks to Chris for organising it all.


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