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The Bookblog / 22 July 2022

Why I started this site


Year on year, we’re reading less books. We consume more stuff on our digital devices. We’re happy to watch entire TV series on our phones, or scroll through hours of social media on our little shiny rectangles, but we seem to be going off reading books.

Over 80% of news and editorial has moved from print to digital.1
But digital books sell to less than 20% of the total book reading market.2

Why is this?

I have a theory. It’s because eBooks aren’t very good. I don’t like reading them, and I love books and I love digital devices.

Here’s a quote for you:

“The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic.”

Arnaud Nourry, CEO Hachette Livre, 2018

M. Nourry was the head of one of the world’s largest publishers when he said that. I think he’s right.

There is a good reason why we’re leaving eBooks behind, like we left behind MySpace and Alta Vista. eBook technology was locked into place around 2007 - that’s about a century ago in Internet years. The technology is ancient. Yes there have been upgrades, but only incremental ones. “Slow”, “clunky”, “fiddly”, “poor design” - not surprising, really. What if these problems were rooted in the technology?

Amazon launched Kindle after forcing publishers to convert 100,000 books to Kindle’s chosen eBook technology, so that Kindle could have a decisive launch event. The underlying technology was bought in a hurry in 2005 from a French company called Mobipocket, who were making software for PDAs and early mobile phones. The strategy was to dominate, and dominate fast. “Jeff Bezos ultimately concluded that if Amazon was to continue to thrive as a bookseller in a new digital age, it must own the e-book business in the same way that Apple controlled the music business”3 This rapid launch set a technological standard in stone. From that point on, every digital book was produced in the same way, resulting in the same technological issues.

So much has changed since that moment in digital history. iPhone apps, tablets, HTML5, decent wi-fi - it’s all happened since those halcyon days of PDAs and pixelly screens.

I made this site because I think reading on digital devices could be better. A lot better. It can look better, and it can work better, and it can be a lot more efficient and capable under the hood too.

For now, there’s a bunch of beautiful new editions of out-of-copyright classics on here. Each one will hopefully be more readable and more enjoyable than any other digital book you’ve tried before. But there’s a lot more still to be done.

Good books are incredibly good for you. Good books are worth fighting for.

That’s why I think we should all read more, beautifully.


1

Sources: Ofcom, 2021; Statista, 2021; American Press Institute, 2017; & others

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1

Sources: American Association of Publishers, 2022; Statista, 2021; Vox, 2019; & others

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2

The Everything Store, Brad Stone, 2013

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