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Kate Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘eBooks’ Category

Losing the e-motion

Every morning I deliver children to their various places of learning and see scores of little hobbits scuttling about, bent double under the weight of giant backpacks full of books, sportsgear and kitchen sinks.

The books, at least, will soon be a burden of the past, as schools switch to tablets, a move that is already being phased in in certain schools in the leafy suburbs.

This prompted “Look at these spoilt brats with their iPads” stories in some of the newspapers, but it’s a no-brainer. Need we mention Limpopo, where you’d be fortunate to have books to schlep at all, let alone an e-reader, loaded with textbooks, to slip into your pocket?

In India, learners will soon have access to the Aakash 2 tablet computer, which features a 7-inch screen, a USB port and Wi-Fi capability.

The first 100000 are being delivered to schools and colleges at a government-subsidised price of 1130 rupees (about R180), which is half of what they would cost in store (not to mention, outrageously cheap compared to a single textbook!). In India, school books are standardised and the text in the public domain, so transforming them into e-books would be a doddle.

In South Africa, too, e-reader prices are falling and options are growing in time for Christmas spending. Kobo has just launched the black-and-white, touch-screen Kobo Touch eReader, with Pick n Pay as its retail partner. The Kobo device boasts a catalogue of 3 million books, of which a million are free. The cost? R1000.

Around the same time, announced a partnership with Bargain Books to sell the gobii eReader for R799 through its 58 outlets. Customers will be able to buy their e-books from

Of course the e-reader to beat is the Kindle. Yes, I know, Amazon is the evil beast that’s killing the book business as we know it, but having destroyed two Kindles (one stopped working on its own and one stopped working when someone’s foot went through the screen), I can attest to the excellence of their customer service.

The first time, they sent me a replacement Kindle. The second time, they sent an upgraded version, for which I had to chip in the difference. (In a contrasting anecdote, I tried to return a hair straightener to a local chain store when it ceased to work after a couple of months, and they wouldn’t accept it because I hadn’t kept the box and the slip and a signed affidavit witnessed by one of the 12 apostles. OK, just the first two.)

Let us not be drawn into bitter tales of poor service; we’ll be here all day. Back to the topic at hand, which you will recall was that of digital publishing. A “don’t-quote-me” estimate from an industry insider is that digital accounts for 7% of book sales in South Africa, and that this figure is expected to double in the coming year.

In the US, the figure is 20% of the overall market and growing at a rapid rate. Publishers have recognised the inevitability of it, and most are now publishing e-books simultaneously with print editions. Although I’m still predominantly a print reader – mostly because that’s how review copies arrive on my desk – digital just has so many advantages (instant purchase of books, price, fewer dead trees, more efficient storage, less risk for publishers) that it seems inevitable that it will dominate.

Impossible as it seemed a couple of years ago, that’s starting to feel OK. Just remind yourself, it’s about the content.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist

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