Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Paper is for sad souls

In the early 1990's, I took a bet with the Chairman of my department that by the year 2000, printing on paper would become obsolete and people would take to reading on their computer screens. I lost the bet, but was merely a little ahead of my time. Yesterday it was announced that in the UK, sales of Kindle e-books have overtaken print books: 114 of the former were sold for every 100 of the latter.

Now Kindle is not the only way to read e-books. One can download over 40,000 e-books for free, in pretty much any format you like, from the Project Gutenberg website. For those sad souls (and I know quite a few) who think everything downloaded for free is illegal, these books are all completely legal and are free simply because their copyright has expired. The website maintains a list of the most popular downloads on a daily basis, and my readers will be delighted to know that number four on the list is the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana, where one can pick up fascinating recommendations such as: "At all times when kissing and such like things are begun, the woman should give a reply with a hissing sound."

If you are done with ROTFL, let's go back to Kindle. A lot of people think this is a device you need to buy and carry around, and indeed there's a whole range of these e-readers. They have particularly good screen resolutions so you may want to try one of them if you feel computer screens don't do it for you. I prefer to download and install the free Kindle software on my Macbook Air, my iPad and my Android phone.

Once you're done with that, a wonderful new life awaits you. Assuming you have a free account (and are not one of those sad souls who refuses to use their credit card over the internet) you can register your credit card once and turn on "1-click ordering". Thereafter you browse the online Kindle store, locate a book you want, order it with - as promised - one click, and immediately download it to your device. Kindle books are reasonably priced, I haven't spent more than ten dollars on one so far. What's more, the next time you start up another of your devices you can download the same book there at no extra cost. And now you can do a whole bunch of things that you couldn't even dream of with paper books.

If you're reading a book on an iPad or other tablet, and open the same book later on your phone, it will automatically offer to scroll to the last page you reached on your previous device. So you can seamlessly switch devices. This enables you to continue your reading in a dentist's waiting room instead of browsing his latest issue of "Root Canal Digest". Of course, for all this your Android phone should have an internet connection, a very minimal GPRS that costs 99 rupees a month is more than enough. You can also read your Kindle books on someone else's device or a computer that runs Linux (for which Kindle software is unavailable) by the simple expedient of pointing your browser to the Kindle Cloud and logging in using your details. There are all your books, waiting eagerly to be read. You can carry a hundred or ten thousand books with you on your next trip without worrying about the baggage allowance. Your device will remember how far you got with each book, so no need for bookmarks.

And there's more. If you forget where in your novel a certain character originally appeared, just type the name into the search window and you will be directed to all their previous appearances. If you don't know what a word means, just hold your finger over it and a dictionary definition will pop up. If you don't like small print, increase the size of your font. Kindle re-organises your pages automatically so that each page precisely fills the screen of your device whatever the font size. You can make notes on your book and even (this is weird and I disabled it) view comments made by other readers of the same book. 

Of course you might be one of those ever-present sad souls who says (i) I like the feel of a real book in my hands, (ii) I can't possibly read a book on the small screen of a mobile phone, (iii) I don't have an internet connection, or (iv) I don't want to read books on a "device", the word "device" makes me throw up.

If "such like things" are the case with you then all I can say is, you deserve "a reply with a hissing sound".


Raju Bathija said...

Thanks Sunil. Very well written. Downloaded the kindle application for my android and also downloaded some free ebooks. Now train journeys will be enjoyable with paperless read :).

Anandan said...

Why do you support Amazon? Aren't you aware of its nefarious corporate tactics?

Sunil Mukhi said...

@Anandan: I've accepted your comment though it wasn't terribly polite, not to mention that is a publishing house and a (hostile) rival of Despite all this there could well be merit in what Housmans claims about, so I do intend to go through the link.