December 03 2009
The media hoohah about digital book e-reader devices in the run-up to Christmas this year has had the kind of relentless, harping-on tempo that makes bearded media studies teachers tell children that everything is a conspiracy to make them consume.
Digital books have been an unwanted and unloved technology since almost 20 years ago, when I was uninspired by a thing called the Sony Data Discman. But suddenly, we’ve got these excellent but still to me uninspiring new readers from Sony, plus the Amazon Kindle, which has finally come over the horizon for out-of-US consumers (at the time of writing I haven’t tried one), plus a dozen or more “me-too” brands.
A concerted PR effort began in the autumn to make us believe that the e-reader’s day has finally come. Here’s no less a literary figure than Jerry Hall gushing in The Sunday Times: “I’ve got this great new Digital Book Reader from Sony and I have a huge catalogue of books on it, so it saves me lugging around a load of books in my bag.” Mrs Jagger is an “ambassador” for the product, and Sony tells me that it did give the former Mrs Jagger a Reader to try out, but that she has bought 12 more to give to her family as presents.
So will Mick get satisfaction from his? Probably, yes. I’ve tried both the new paperback-sized Sony models, and they’re OK. But it’s still a compromise as long as the screens are grey and dull, as they all are at the moment, and the books look like long e-mails.
I’m no Luddite, though, and I do look forward to e-readers that are cheap, flexible and light and download newspapers and magazines in colour along with beautifully presented books. I just think we’re a way off yet, and I shan’t be joining Jerry as an e-reader for a while, I suspect.