I’m a non-believer in the idea that books are on their way to becoming a purely electronic medium. I may sound like a militant bookworm, but factors like typography and even book size are ones that can’t be compensated for on a 3.7” screen, nor can the wholesome feeling of physically progressing through a book, page, after page, after page…
Pomposity aside, iBooks is a well-designed app that allows users to build up a library of eBooks and PDFs, keeping them nicely organised them on a digital bookshelf. The presentation is pleasing on the eyes, and many of the purchased eBooks have the same cover as their paper counterparts. Sadly, iBooks lacks the social function of a real bookshelf, which allows you to impress house-guests by strategically placing intellectual texts and poetry at eye-level while consigning Dan Brown novels and Bear Grylls’ Survival Guide to the bottom shelves. Yet this is a sacrifice that must be made in order to embrace digital reading.
If you want to buy eBooks for your iBooks library you have to get them through the iBookstore. The collection of books available is decent and increasing at a steady rate, but there’s a bit of me that can’t help resenting Apple’s relentless monopolising of everything they can get their greedy hooves on.
If iTunes is anything to go by, then the iBookstore probably won’t go on to contain more than bestsellers, classics and everything that’s out-of-copyright. Furthermore, some of the prices for eBooks are comparable to their paperback versions. As an example, Imperial Bedrooms (my current obsession) costs £11.99 on the store while it’s paperback RRP is £12.99. £1 extra seems like a small price to pay to physically own something rather than have it compressed into 1MB of iPhone data.
Admittedly, iBooks isn’t all bad. It’s novel that your library can include audiobooks, and the PDF viewer is genuinely useful if you want to do bitesize reading on the go. However, its fundamental flaw is that reading whole books on a small, backlit screen is a rape of the eyes. After half an hour of reading, I find myself squinting and crying at the tiny pixel-letters, as my eyes simply fail to adjust to this unnatural form of eye-text interaction.
iBooks is well-designed and has plenty of good out-of-copyright books to be dipped into for free, but the prices of most things in the Store suggest that Apple expect this to be a genuine alternative to paper publishing. I’m sceptical, and the iPhone definitely won’t be the format on which this prospective revolution will be happening since the screen size makes longer reading sessions impossible. Now, I’m off to go ensure that the books on my real bookshelf are arranged in a way that makes me come across as an intellectual, or just a pretentious loser.