Home » Amazon, Ebooks, Non-US » How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’

How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’

27 April 2017

From The Guardian:

Here are some things that you can’t do with a Kindle. You can’t turn down a corner, tuck a flap in a chapter, crack a spine (brutal, but sometimes pleasurable) or flick the pages to see how far you have come and how far you have to go. You can’t remember something potent and find it again with reference to where it appeared on a right- or left-hand page. You often can’t remember much at all. You can’t tell whether the end is really the end, or whether the end equals 93% followed by 7% of index and/or questions for book clubs. You can’t pass it on to a friend or post it through your neighbour’s door.

A few years ago, I was given a Kindle. I had become a student again. I was reading lots of books and I needed them cheap and light. But now the Kindle has slipped to the back of the desk drawer behind the Blu-Tack that comes out only at Christmas. Meanwhile, the stack of hardbacks and paperbacks on the bedside table has grown so tall it has spawned sub-stacks on the floor; when I get into bed at night, it is like looking down on a miniature book city. I don’t want to speculate about what goes on in other people’s bedrooms but I suspect it might be something similar, because figures published today by the Publishing Association show that sales of consumer ebooks have dropped by 17%, while sales of physical books are up 8%. Consumer spending on books was up £89m across the board last year, compared with 2015. So why is the physical book winning through?

Ten years ago, when the Kindle launched, the idea was miraculous. Here was the ability to carry hundreds of books enfolded in a tiny slip of plastic, countless stories in a few hundred grams. It seems hard to believe when you look at the thick, black plastic surround – stylistically it bears more resemblance to a cathode ray tube TV than a tablet – that it predated the iPad by two years. Within five hours, it had sold out, despite a price tag of $399 (then £195). A decade on, lay a Kindle next to a smartphone or tablet and it looks so much older, while the reading experience it delivers has scarcely progressed.

“It was new and exciting,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. “But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they? I guess everyone wants a piece of trendy tech and, unfortunately, there aren’t trendy tech reading devices and I don’t think people are reading long-form fiction on their phones. I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page. It slows you down and makes you think.”

. . . .

“The physical book had become quite a cheap and tacky thing at the turn of the millennium,” Daunt says. Publishers “cut back on the quality of the paper, so if you left a book in the sun it went yellow. They were gluing, not sewing. They would put a cover on a hardback but not do anything with the hard case underneath. Nowadays, if you take a cover off, there is likely to be something interesting underneath it.”

. . . .

Once upon a time, people bought books because they liked reading. Now they buy books because they like books. “All these people are really thinking about how the books are – not just what’s in them, but what they’re like as objects,” says Jennifer Cownie, who runs the beautiful Bookifer website and the Cownifer Instagram, which match books to decorative papers, and who bought a Kindle but hated it. Summerhayes thinks that “people have books in their house as pieces of art”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG says this is a big day for Amazon Derangement Syndrome at The Guardian. The books department must be cutting their pills in half again.

As for the Bookifer crowd, here’s a better alternative.

Amazon, Ebooks, Non-US

62 Comments to “How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’”

  1. Clunky and unhip? Sounds more like me than a Kindle.

  2. PG says this is a big day for Amazon Derangement Syndrome at The Guardian. The books department must be cutting their pills in half again.

    I totally agree. First “screen fatigue” and now “unhip” They’re definitely on the wrong drugs.

  3. Clunky? Unhip? How old is this person’s Kindle?

    Yeah, they suck so much that I just added the Kindle Fire HD8 to my Kindle collection. New total of Kindles (assorted types) is now 7.

    And comparing it to a smartphone is stooopid. A phone needs to (generally) be smaller to fit in pockets or slip into a purse without adding much weight, so as to be accessed frequently throughout a day.

    For reading, I don’t want a tiny screen (although it’s much easier to read with the Kindle app on my iPhone 6s than my previous tiny iPhone 4s).

    • Apparently it’s the original 10 year old one. At least that’s what I get from the text of the article. In which case, no wonder it’s “clunky,” what ten-year-old device isn’t?

      Every time some new set of figures comes out purporting to show a change in the market, people reach for the tea leaves and tarot cards. Sometimes it seems like no potential explanation is too far out there for someone to offer up as a good potential fit.

    • I have a small purse I use in the summer (in winter, I rely on my coat pockets) and I took it out for the first time on Saturday. I slipped my Kindle Voyage into it and it fit easily. In fact, it fits better than my phone. I could have read on my phone that day but we were going to be in the sun and I didn’t want to run my phone battery down.

      People still tell me that they prefer ‘real’ books though. I honestly think it’s almost a complex with some as if the Kindle is beneath them for some reason.

      Anyway, in my day job I work in a hospital and have a lot of patient contact. I’d say Kindles brought in by patients and families outnumber books by 4 to 1, and the people who bring them are avid readers. A lot of the paper books I see are religious in nature, so I think that’s a bit different.

    • The article shows a lot of ADS, but owning seven different Kindles (all functional still?) could border on Amazon Idolizing Syndrom, maybe ?

      • Well, it’s that I have been getting them since 2010, and as they have improvements (better screens) coupled with big sales (I got one for less than 60 bucks), I treat myself. They are all still functional, though I never use the keyboard one anymore. The keyboard button icons wore off :D. Oh, one I got used supercheap. I like to keep different types of books on different Kindles–so one is writing and non-fic heavy, another is spec-fic heavy,another is religious stuff/Bibles heavy. Less scrolling if I know which one I want to use for what that’s already downloaded. Sort of like bookshelves at home. Art over there, LIt Criticism over here, Bibles and commentaries yonder, etc.

  4. I agree with Mark. Definitely on the wrong drugs! Wow. And “pieces of art?” No way! Friends, yes, resources, yes, pleasure, yes. And I have a Kindle, too.

  5. You know, this might just be some of that ‘advertising money’ trad-pub claims they spend promoting their books (too bad they don’t actually promote books other than their .0001ers …)

    If the NYTs does this ‘promotion’ as well we’ll know it’s just window dressing.

    As far as ‘clunky and unhip’, I’ll refer you to those idiots looking at/talking/yelling at their phones and not bothering to look both ways before walking into traffic. (both sexes, all colors, mostly young but by no means all …)

  6. I haven’t charged mine in a year maybe… but it’s because I read everything on my iphone. I realize the screen is too small but it’s just so darn convenient.

    I need to get the thing out, but I’m too lazy to find the charger.

  7. I agree with every negative thing she said about Kindles, and they’re still going to win. May take 75 years, but everything will be digital. It’s ineitable

    • Harumph. Once people started chopping up perfectly good scrolls and binding them into sheaves, it was obvious that reading-as-we-know it was doomed.

      Instead of just saying “about ten feet from the bottom” you had to *count* pages, and then remember if the part you wanted was on the left or the right… what kind of lookup system is that?!

      • LOL. TRX! awesome

      • Hrmph. Civilization died with the invention of that impermanent stuff called “papyrus” – and that uncouth bunch of squiggles that they couldn’t even come up with an original name for. Really, calling it “alphabeta”…

        It was so much better when a librarian could tell the seeker of knowledge to refer to the sixth obelisk on the right – “No, you REALLY CAN’T MISS IT!” Pictures are so much more expressive, and evocative – you could almost feel that spear going into the bodies of the God-King’s enemies.

    • And yet her bedroom is stacked with piles of books. As is mine because I still haven’t recycled them. Meanwhile my library has increased by hundreds, most no more than $3, and many of the the big five bought on sale at Amazon and all safely tucked in my purse along with my library of TV shows, movies and music.

      • I had an unhappy experience yesterday when I opened my Kindle. ALL my library was downloaded to the device. I could no longer press on a title and remove it from the Kindle. The only way I could get rid of hundreds of books was to go into the content online and permanently delete the books I didn’t want using up resources on my Kindle (I like to keep current reading material only, with it fitting on one page). If I want any of those now-gone books again, I need to re-purchase them. Not at all happy with the doing away of the old methods.

  8. Hmmm, I’m betting the ‘shine’ loss they’re whining about is all on the trad-pub side.

    When ebooks first came out they were just another way to buy and read a book (the web’s had mostly ‘free’ stories out there since it came online – I know this firsthand.)

    But ebooks are too ‘easy’ to make writers don’t have to beg trad-pub to publish – they can publish an ebook all on their own and cut out the trad-pub/agent middlemen. And trad-pub can’t stop/control indie ebooks, and they don’t want to compete, so they pay HuffPo, NYTs and this rag to make ebooks look bad – or try to anyway.

    My mom’s finishing an ebook right now so she can return it to the library and check out three more while I’m trying to decide how to end a tread in my own tall tale before offering it to my alpha readers (and then to my editor once the alphas are done chewing on it.)

    Not that trad-pub could afford to offer me a deal in the first place, they need to save their pennies to bid on that Trump book when he steps out of office. (I hope to have a few more books out by then! 😉 )

    • I dunno… the Donald may have to plan on just one term, then. The money they’re throwing at the likes of Cuomo, Obama, etc. just might finish breaking the bank before eight years are up.

  9. What is staggering about this crazy (and orchestrated) campaign to try to turn back the clock on technology is that if you love books, even print books, all these changes should be exciting and wonderful.

    Nothing is stopping anyone from reading in print. POD makes it easier than ever. Books that never possibly could have remained in print can remain so forever.

    And yes, the reality is that most people are going to move to digital, but that’s a great thing. High profit digital sales means more writers than ever can make a living, write more books, keep them available forever and, yes, easily make them for print too. They can also create all sorts of different versions, in hardback, special covers, special print easily.

    The absurdity of trying to convince people that the digital revolution isn’t happening, clearly only try to prop up old (and disfunction) forms of distribution, is just amazing.

    • This is true, and feels really good. Yay!

    • Iraqui News Guy is alive, and works at the Guardian?

    • Well, for the hardbacks it ain’t so easy. It seems that the relationship between Amazon and Lightning Source/Ingramspark has soured even more, and Amazon France/Europe just refuses to list the Ingramspark-sourced hardbacks at the correct price (ie, they list them at ridiculously and randomly-chosen higher prices than the list price). I do hope that Createspace will some day provide hardbacks and color books at an affordable price.

  10. “I read text in a format you haven’t heard of yet.” Hipster editor of the publishing news section of Teh Grauniad.

  11. Format depends on what I’m reading. Genre fiction? Digital. Cookbook, lifestyle book? Usually physical. History? Depends, but (eyeing the TBR stack in the living room) trends toward physical. What gets the largest amount of my reading $$$? Genre fiction.

  12. Ah, Teh Grauniad is really turning the dial to 11 😀

    It explains so much, really, that they spend more than two nanoseconds worrying about how “hip” their reading format is. Someday, they will discover that “books”, regardless of their means of expression, exist to convey meaning, with their content…but today is not that day!

  13. “Another thing that has happened is that books have become celebrated again as objects of beauty.”

    Which ones? Where? Occasionally, a small press will issue a limited edition collectible edition that really is superior in workmanship, materials, and design to mass market hardcovers. Apart from those, most books produced today are poorly made and show it and only very rarely do they even boast an attractive or imaginative cover design.

  14. “Here are some things that you can’t do with a Kindle. You can’t turn down a corner, tuck a flap in a chapter, crack a spine (brutal, but sometimes pleasurable)”

    Agh! Who would do any of those things?! You can’t claim to love paper books and then talk cheerily about how much you love destroying them.

    I do find, for me lately, that the last (quoted) paragraph seems to be true, although maybe not in the way the person talking means. For many years, I kind of hoarded books a bit. Now I have a huge backlog. As I go through them, I’m now mostly getting rid of books that I don’t *really* like. I have my favorites shelf, and I have a number of books that I’m keeping for one reason or another (often because I liked them enough that I might return to them at some point but not enough to spend any more money on them to buy them in another format). For ones that are somewhere between those, if I can find the Kindle version for a price I like, I may get rid of the paper and get the Kindle. As far as buying new books, I’m much more picky about what I’ll buy in paper than I used to be, and most of my paper purchases are my most favorite authors. And even then, the paper books are mostly bought as items, since I generally always return to the audiobook to re-read them. For non-favorite authors, I’ve taken to getting the Kindle versions because they’re cheaper (I’ve been shifting to reading indies) and don’t take up space, and if I really like the book enough, I can buy a paper copy later. So yeah, for me the paper books are shifting to be objects, almost more visual reminders of the book I love, moreso than the actual reading copy.

    • +1!

    • You can’t claim to love paper books and then talk cheerily about how much you love destroying them.

      Don’t question their love. It’s a special relationship.

      I wonder how many of those books have plain brown wrappers.

      • When I was young, I borrowed a book from a friend and wrinkled the cover. She took it back before I finished it and it so traumatized me that all my books after that are in pristine condition.

    • And how about stopping the trad pub/bookstore system that allows defacing books for return? THAT is what really burns me. TEaring up a book instead of just, you know, finding a way to give it away or price it way lower or not print so much to start with, something.

  15. The thing that gets me—as I mentioned in the link in my post above—is that books are objects with a specific purpose. They’re meant to convey knowledge. That’s their primary intention. It’s as Conan Doyle said:

    Let us suppose that we were suddenly to learn that Shakespeare had returned to earth, and that he would favour any of us with an hour of his wit and his fancy. How eagerly we would seek him out! And yet we have him—the very best of him—at our elbows from week to week, and hardly trouble ourselves to put out our hands to beckon him down.

    And yet all these articles about how print books rule and ebooks drool seem to be predicated on what lovely physical objects books are.

    I mean, seriously, what the f-word? If I want lovely physical objects, there are any number of things I can get to serve that purpose. If I want something to convey knowledge, it’s a book, and an ebook is just as good as a paper one for that purpose as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice if a printed book is pretty, but that’s not what it’s supposed to be for. It’s like judging the skill of a doctor by the quality of the magazines in his waiting room. It makes no sense!

    • You can’t decide everything by the criteria of “how much sense it makes”. Sometimes the pleasurability (is that an english word) is as much important as the practicability.

      From my office table at home where I work, I see on my right my bookshelves, on my left my vynil collection. I derive sheer pleasure from just looking at them, by browsing the covers (or even the spines) I am reminded of the good things which are inside those covers (music or words) and of the good times I spent reading or listening. The same pleasure is absolutely unatteignable with digital files. i have digitalized most of my vyniles, I am not a technophobe or a luddite, but opening the iTunes software does not provide me with any tingle of pleasure or expectation.

      • I agree. I am a bibliophile who gets pleasure from what’s in a book and what’s outside of it and how it’s made. I have a separate apartment for my books, but my living space–even the bathroom–is chock full of books. Some are very old (I have some 19th century and some mid-twentieth century).

        Some are books that just have sentimental value, a fave read I picked up at the hospital gift shop and has been reread many times, for ex; but I have rebought many of those faves on Kindle so I can read in an allergen-free way.

        I have asthma and allergies and am heading into retirement age. That means I need to get rid of nearly all my collection acquired over decades. Thousands of print books. Some just regular,nothing-special paperbacks, and some beautifully printed hardcover first-editions.

        Being able to carry 1000 books in my purse: priceless.
        Being able to read those books in a non-allergenic format (no yellowed-pages, no dust, no insect remnants, no water-damage from roof leaks after hurricanes): also priceless.

        I love a beautifully designed print book. No question. It’s a true pleasure to open a book where from cover to first pages to last pages to end pages was thought-out with true refined aesthetic judgment. Wonderful to enjoy the art on covers, especially SF ones. 😀

        But the reality is that for some of us, digital offers a lot of benefits, not the least space-saving, allergy-sparing, and being able to carry the hoard anywhere I go.

        I get a lot of pleasure online browsing for books. I can read reviews on various sites/blogs, take in samples, enjoy cover art,enlarge font to read easier, read interviews with authors about said books, etc, without going anywhere. Sipping my tea or coffee with bare feet up on my cushions. Nice. For an introvert like me, not having to go to a store is lovely.

      • Each to their own. One of the great joys of having a Kindle for me was getting rid of the heaps and piles of books in every room of the house. Now I have three bookcases with reference books and favorites, and the books in them are actually neatly in place, no extras shoved on top or balancing on the edge. My life is messy enough without piles of books everywhere, and I’m delighted to be rid of what needed dusting and still have anything I want to read at my fingertips.

    • I like doctors with good magazines in the waiting room. What exactly are you insinuating?

  16. All this rabble about the qualities of finely printed and assembled books. Rubbish, I say!

    Nothing beats the feel, smell, look and presence of clay tablets. I’ll never give mine up!

    • Don’t worry. You won’t have to give up your clay tablets. I have it on good authority that your neighbors don’t read cuneiform.

    • This joke (or the one aboves of the same sort) has been done so many millions of times that it has become as boring as the repetition of ADS BS in the newspapers and magazines.

  17. The article is full of contradictions. The first paragraph tells you all the things you can do with a physical book rather than a kindle, break the spine, fold over pages etc. Then later we’re told physical books are objects of beauty. Really? Dog-eared battered paperbacks are objects of beauty? Oh no you meant the new ones didn’t you.

    Then we have this:

    “There are fewer new readers of digital books, and they tend to consume physical books as well. Oyster, the so-called Netflix for books, folded after a year.”

    Oyster folded because its readers were too voracious and it had the wrong business model. Though that model would have succeeded with a lot of readers who didn’t read much. Which sounds suspiciously like the kind of people who buy physical books as “objects of beauty”.

    Meanwhile Kindle Unlimited is chugging along quite nicely.

    Having said all that I do think we’re in an in-between period at the moment. Eink readers especially have not really progressed that much in 10 years. At least not as much as other technology, e.g. smartphones. But I think there’ll be another step change once someone really cracks colour eink. By which I mean a new display technology that is a) good in natural light, b) low power, c) can do colour and d) can do faster refresh.

  18. My jeep is rather clunky and unwieldy. It’s rather inconvenient but I have a very small space available to me.

    I think I need a horse, after all it was a far more beautiful mode of transportation.

    • I’m waiting for the genetically-engineered Pegasi.

    • I think you’re on to something Ed Ryan. Your suggestion gave me a business idea to take on Uber. I’m going to start investigating horse and carriage transportation as a business model—just like it was done in the old days. It’s quaint, low tech and some even consider it romantic. It’s a thing of beauty, I tell you.

      • And the horsey poop is good for fertilizing all those eco-yards. Green power.

        I actually suddenly want a romantic carriage ride.

  19. Regardless what this blog says the truth is known to every author that relies on Kindle eBook sales. They are down. Not only Kindle, but everyone else. It’s because kindle looks like a “Black Berry?” I don’t know, but I know what I don’t like about Kindle. I don’t know what book I’m reading at the time I’m reading a story; I don’t remember what books’ titles I’ve read.
    I’m sure if Kindle would just pay attention to what readers say they can improve it. I said this in the past and its worth repeating. When you read a paper book you see its cover all the time and it reminds you what you’re reading. Why doesn’t Kindle use the front screen to display the current book you’re reading? Nowadays it is not used even for advertising. I also agree with the percent read. I want to know how much of the actual book I’m reading, not the advertisement that follows at the end as part of the content. I think the Kindle team lost its edge, and doesn’t care to make the device any better or more competitive.
    Will e-reading die? No, but it may take another round of innovators to make it better.

    • +1

    • +1

    • Well said. Just about the only thing I dilike about the Kindle is that I forget the title and author of the book I’m reading. With a print book, you are constantly reminded which helps to imprint the books, as well as the author, in your mind. I like to remember which books I’ve read, and connect them with their content. When I look at my library and see the book covers, I can’t remember what the story was; I can’t connect covers with content. I thought it was just me. I’m glad to see it isn’t.

      • However, as an author myself, I disagree with your first sentence. With each new book I publish, sales are up. The last one hit the UK Top 100 (position 33) which was a first for me. But then, I’m with Bookouture!

    • The Kobo readers do/did (not sure if this persisted) show the cover of the book being read when the device was turned off. This was regarded as a bug and not a feature by a lot of readers.

  20. Apart from textbooks or manuals, I can’t recall the last time I bought a physical book.

    I just discovered that my all time favourite author is finally available in Kindle format. Donald Jack. Best Canadian author ever.

    Anyways, I have already bought six of his books in e-format, even though I have them all sitting in my bookshelf.

    I think my wife and I represent the heavy reading buying community, and we read everything online now. Either on our old Kindles, or on her Iphone. No matter what article comes out stating otherwise, this is the way it is.

    Plus, we are price-conscious. Fifteen dollars? Forget it. There is so much available to me in the five dollar range, that I refuse to pay that kind of money.

    • Same, and I’m the girl who spent $70 to $150 every weekend hitting the bookstore.

      I still buy Bibles and graphic type books in print (Art Books, Graphic Design books) as well as footnoted commentaries (as using links to go back and fort in ebook footnotes is a pain). But even cookbooks I have been buying in e-format.

  21. Another Neo-Luddite making a fool of himself…

  22. This is an article from an author with a 9 dollar paperback and an 8 dollar eBook?

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