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.
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.