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I've seen the future – and it doesn't work…

October 23, 2009

When signing the contract for the forthcoming book (very soon now) Mr P and I spent hours debating the clauses on electronic version rights, particularly, ‘how do you declare an electronic version “out of print?”’ At the time, Amazon.com’s electronic reader Kindle was in its infancy, and there were almost no competitors. Still, it is as well to make any deal as future proof as possible, and we sorted the knotty problem in the end.

In the 1980s and early 90s I’d watched enviously as Captain Pickard strode the Enterprise with all his Captainly documents and junk emails for stellar sized enhancements stored in a single thin handheld unit. Similarly, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” promised the same thing – but with colour animation. Who’d have thought that a mere 20 years or so later…

…They’d want about £200 in my local bookshop for a thickish monochrome, pocket calculator-like display, electronic book reading gadget. For the first time, I got to try one out, and I won’t embarrass the manufacturer concerned by naming them (though I’d stick to TV sets, if I were them, Sonny Boys).

What a load of tat! Appropriately, for my very first electronic book experience I chose to sample the aforementioned “Hitchhikers,” a favourite novel. If this is the future of publishing, then it really doesn’t work if you are a proper reader. Moron-sized extracts of text appear on a tiny screen. You focus a moment, read and press for the next droplet. Press too hard and the text whizzes around like it’s been surprised in the shower.

You could probably learn to use it quite quickly, but why bother? It’s pretty bulky and hard to look at for long, isn’t in colour or capable of graphics (so forget my book making it onto the system); and for the price you could buy at least a shelf of reading matter in traditional dead tree form.

Probably for those who are forced to live in a 2007 built apartment without storage space, the thing might be useful. For everyone else, consider this: if you drop a normal book in the bath, you swear and hope that it either dries out not to wrinkly (and that the book dries out not too crinkled either) – or you buy another copy.

Drop an electronic one in the bath and it’s probably “Goodnight Vienna,” for both you and the device. Bet they hadn’t thought of waterproofing when they declared war on the printed page… or just maybe the inventors have already discovered the error a bit too late – as the smell of crispy rubber duck emanates from the bathroom.

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