Amazon’s Kindle has been realesed in the UK and Europe (finally). Hurrah! Whilst I am eager to get my grubby paws on one (to have a play about), I am also skeptical about how it will all pan out. I’m not convinced that e-books will be all that successful here in the UK. Yet.
I may be biased – I am an English graduate after all, and I vividly remember the discussions we had about the sacrilige of folding a page or breaking the spine of a book (although there seemed to be two distinct camps of anal-retentives there). It strikes me that we have a deep-seated reverence for printed books in the UK – although, it can be argued that this is decreasing with each new generation – and the culture of buying second-hand (often pot-luck) books seems to be thriving amongs the old and the ‘hip’ (an odd mix). This would all but disappear if printed books were to become a thing of the past.
There are other issues: how would our cherished libraries work if the books were only released in digital format? Never mind the fact that you’re paying for something which has zero resell value (one of my main gripes with digital products). These issues aside, anyone who knows me probably knows that I am pretty indecisive a lot of the time. I know quite a few people who are the same. Maybe it’s just that we’re all so easy-going that we’re quite willing to concede to other people’s suggestions, or maybe it’s just that we’re sheep and will only do what we’re told. If that’s the case, then we’re a marketing department’s wet dream.
With that in mind, I’d point out one issue that has stood in the way of digital print taking off so far: marketing. As far as I can tell, the only people who even know what a Sony Reader or a Cool-er actually is are high-end business people or gadget fiends.
No wonder they haven’t taken off. Someone is doing something wrong! It seems to me that Sony and Cool-er (the two top sellers in the UK – given that competition is low) haven’t put much effort into their marketing.
Sure, the Sony Reader is advertised in Waterstones and various big highstreet book shops, but they didn’t have the same hype surrounding their release – the BBC news did a segment on the Kindle as if the Sony hadn’t been available here for 2 years or so. Thus far the Kindle’s rivals have only attempted to crack a very specialised market – they haven’t succeeded in made ebooks look cool, easy to use, or indespensible. Thus far they’ve only managed to say, ‘Look, this is a shiny new gadget that can carry lots of books inside it.‘ Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone who will routinely carry around more than one novel at a time. Thus, pointing out that it can hold x amount of books seems rather daft to me.
Another issue is pricing. The device itself is slightly expensive, but reasonable, I feel. However, there is categorically no way I’d pay over the hardback price for an e-book (today, one look on the Borders web site shows the new Dan Brown novel at £15.19 in e-book, and £12.91 in hardback formats). Correct me if I’m wrong but…there’s no printing, or raw materials involved, they should be cheaper than a hardback. I am totally against paying nearly full price (which seems to be what Amazon etc. are expecting us to do too) for something that I can’t then sell on or give to someone else if it’s utter drivel.
It is distinctly possible that if Amazon starts a large advertising campaign (and actually makes a decent selling-point with it), they might just be able to pinch the top spot from Sony in the UK despite Sony’s head-start. But, as it stands, I think the digital book marketplace in the UK needs to make some substantial changes in order to make any real difference to consumer’s buying habits, and if anyone is going to do that it might just be Amazon with the Kindle.
I’m still not convinced that sitting around in a coffee shop peering at a chunk of white plastic will ever make anyone look cool or particularly interesting though.