When I first acquired a Kindle, I was surprised at the reaction of a book-loving friend, who said she liked to recycle her books (to charity shops), and that now she wouldn’t be able to. I pointed out the ecological benefits of not cutting down a tree in the first place and thought no more of it. But as time has gone on her words have come back to me and not just because of the carbon footprint of an e-book and the device needed to use it.After all, there’s a lot of pleasure in sharing a book, of saying you must read this and thrusting the tome in question into the hands of someone you trust implicitly to give it back (yes, a few mistakes made there!) with their own reaction. Somehow go and get it it’s only 99p on Amazon doesn’t feel quite the same.
Which brings us to the thorny question of e-book library lending. It flits in and out of the newspapers without much seeming to happen. It’s a complex issue and I almost sympathise with Penguin who withdrew from a deal to offer e-books to US Libraries. The problem, it appears is that compared to visiting the library (requiring time effort and requisite motivation) downloading an e-book is simply too easy. Too many people did it. And if that sounds laughable, I can’t really argue with a publisher wanting to preserve its business model, not to mention its authors’ interests. Meanwhile amazon.com allow a publisher to specify ‘lending enabled’ and for the book to be loaned for a fortnight, But I have never seen this on amazon.co.uk (where this sounds pretty uncompromising) and those U.K. libraries offering e-books are not allowed to provide them Kindle format.
And so it looks as if, barring blatant acts of piracy, even lending to a friend is impossible in the Kindle format. Which is sad, not just for my friends and our dwindling budgets but also for the way society and culture work.
Yes, I know we can all go online and press the ‘share this’ button, but what about the face to face experience, the handing back of the object, the stopping to have a good natter about it? Or even the surprise find in the library/charity shop you only picked up in desperation (I have discovered more than one author in these circumstances!) before a dentist, hospital or garage appointment and which proved to be a blindingly good read. If everything we choose is preselected from our previous likes/dislikes, or recommended by people we know to be on the same wave-length, where will there be room for serendipity?
It’s like my old gripe about TV time-shifting. When we all watch what we want when we want to, there may be no common ground when friends come to dinner. Even adverts used to be worth a mention, before we all filtered them out through the skip function. And providers are striving more and more to hook onto our individual preferences (the old ‘you may also like’ scenario) channelling us into our ingrained likes and dislikes and away from that moment of idleness. When our viewing/reading is all pre-ordered and sent via broadband, how will we find the surprise gem we only chose because we were marooned on the sofa with nothing else to do?
I may have gone off at a tangent (no change there then!) but sometimes the virtual world, wonderful though it is, makes me uncomfortable. I miss the act of giving and recieiving which spreads the love of a fabulous read. And if anyone does know more than me about lending on Kindle, I’ll be very pleased to hear about it.