The bogey man in the cupboard at the Costa Book Awards

Sarah Odedina mediumOur blog today comes from our Managing Director Sarah Odedina. Sarah attended the Costa Awards ceremony with our author Sally Gardner, whose book Maggot Moon won the Costa Children’s Award.

Last night was the Costa Book Awards party and Hilary Mantel triumphed, winning the overall prize as well as the novel award, with Sally Gardner winning the children’s award,  Francesca Segal winning the first novel award, Kathleen Jamie winning the poetry award and Mary and Bryan Talbot winning the biography award.  Each of the books is a wonderful ‘story’ waiting to be read and will be enjoyed by many people still to come.

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During the ceremony there was an interesting moment when head judge Dame Jenni Murray told the guests that because she chose to read the physical editions instead of the ebooks on her Kindle, she felt that she had proof that the digital format was a ‘second choice’ and that print editions were far superior in terms of providing true enjoyment and a more intellectual experience.  She went on to say that she would save her Kindle for light easy holiday throwaway reading…the kind of books, by implication, that are somehow less worthy of respect and possibly enjoyment.

The guests, publishers, authors, agents,  obviously all book-loving individuals, duly clapped. I didn’t. I was a bit bemused.  Why does the digital edition have to be constantly maligned by ‘real book lovers’?  What on earth is wrong with reading a book in the digital format?  Surely the point is for the book to be read, for the story to be shared, for the author’s work to be enjoyed by a reader.  If that reader chooses to prefer to read the book digitally as opposed to in a print format does that make them somehow lightweight or less of a ‘real book lover’?

I also wonder if, with this rather archaic and hierarchical attitude, many people in the book world will miss the opportunity to communicate with readers properly. When there is an implicit snobbery about form, will potential readers be deterred from ever getting to the content?  Will a sixteen-year-old young adult who comes across this attitude feel immediately alienated from the precious object being talked about?  I suspect that they will.  When will ‘real book lovers’  get over feeling that ebooks are the bogey men hiding in the cupboard and truly and properly embrace them as simply another format which allows us to link readers with authors and their stories?  I also wonder if this attitude is not helping us as an industry in our fight to maintain pricing.  Surely if we perceive the format as so inferior the lack of value attached to it culturally reflects in the value we attach to it financially.

I am sure that the time will come when these sorts of comments, and the support for them, will be harder to make.  I hope that before that time comes we don’t lose an entire generation of digitally savvy readers who don’t want to be made to feel inferior for their choices.

6 responses to “The bogey man in the cupboard at the Costa Book Awards

  1. Having recently experienced first hand what Hot Key books are doing with e-books – with the e meaning ‘enhanced’ rather than just ‘electronic’, I couldn’t agree with the tone and message of this post more. E-books are NOT the enemy and there’s room for both electronic and print books in a market where there’s still not much of a divide in price with both. People still have a funny idea that something tangible that you can stack on a shelf somehow has more worth (and note: this view usually comes from the same generation who are only just getting to grips with concepts like the mobile phone and the PVR).

    The E-version of Maggot Moon was deservedly one of our book of the week winners with good reason, it’s fantastic and shows exactly why e-books can, and should, be taken seriously.

    • Thank you for your lovely comments. We totally think people should be able to read any way they want and why should they be judged for that?

      I also wanted to pick up on another point made during that speech – I’m pretty sure it was made to reassure us “worried publishers”. Well, you know what – we’re not all worried. I know many great publishers that are “excited”, like we are, about the times we’re in now, and the opportunities we have available to us. And we certainly ARE real book lovers, more so because we love the book in all and every form that we can make it in.

  2. When I bought an iPad a few years ago, the first app I downloaded was the Kindle app. I have purchased FAR more books using Kindle than I ever have purchased before, including many books from authors I’ve never read, and may never have read, were it not for their ready availability at the touch of a button! (And, to be honest, most of my print book purchases were from second hand book fairs anyway… this way, new authors get a look in!.)

    I love that I can finish a book in a series, and immediately purchase the next book and be reading it moments later! I love that older and hard-to-find books are often readily available online (without the 6-8 week wait, should I do a special order with a book shop); and I love that I don’t have to find a place to store even more books in my home (I have 15 completely filled Billy bookshelves already! And a dreadful dust allergy… oh dear!).

    It is simply a different format. My one frustration, however, is that in purchasing some e-book biographies, the ‘middle section with pictures’ that is often found in the print book, has been left out of digital editions (pick up your game, publishers!), and wonder that it’s part of this ‘snobbery’, that less care is taken with digital books. (I have noticed that there appear to be – in quite a few different books, from different authors and publishers – a higher proportion of spelling errors.)

    • I totally agree with you! I buy way more books on my Kindle than I did before. I love the physical copies, but I’m also thrilled to always have something new to read right in my hand at any given moment.

      Such a fascinating comment re: the picture pages in nonfiction books. It is definitely more complicated to create an ebook with pictures than it is to do a straight text conversion. And then there are more limitations on top of that depending on what device you use to read the book. Things are moving quickly to catch up though. I think the difference between print books and ebooks will become increasingly invisible as the hardware and software improves.

  3. I agree. I chop and change between physical and ebooks all the time, depending on where I am and how soon I want a book – I was so desperate to read the third of Coleen Houck’s Tiger’s Curse series after I returned from Australia (having borrowed the first two from the lovely family with whom I way staying) that I bought it on my Kindle as soon as I got home, then I bought the fourth in paperback format at Waterstone’s when I was browsing a few days later.

    I’ve heard several accounts where an ereader has been invaluable when travelling, because its owner no longer has to lug around a bag of heavy, meaty books. I prefer reading the classics on the Kindle myself. Yes, I’ll admit that’s mainly because they’re free, but if I really like it I might buy a pretty copy to put on my bookshelf to read again (I absolutely love the Collector’s Library gilt-edged hardbacks).

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