Amazon's new Kindle Paperwhite became officially available in the Indian market today. And as with every Kindle launch, it too has been accompanied by the usual argument about whether e-books can ever replace "proper" paper ones. Well, we have spent some time with the new Kindle Paperwhite (and its predecessors), and here is our take on whether it actually does enough to drive us from paper books to e-books.
Access to books
What does a bookworm need most? The ability to get to the books they want. And let's face it, here the Kindle scores over the conventional book store. You always have it with you, and can browse books by just switching it on and going online. You do not have to drive down to a book store to see what's new. You can also get books on the very day they are released, often within a few minutes of their becoming available, without moving an inch. And of course, there's very little chance of a book being "out of stock" on a Kindle unless the publisher withdraws it. Finally, while reading a book for too long in a book store will get you frowns from the sales staff, on the Kindle, you can download a free sample (generally running into 20-30 pages) of just about any book that's up for sale.
Availability of books
A few years ago, we would have given this round to the bookstore, as the Kindle had relatively fewer titles. Today the tables have been squarely turned. Amazon's Kindle Store has thousands of books and a much better collection than you could find in most bookstores. What's more, you can also get books that have not been released in print in India quite easily on the Kindle store - Tom Asacker's The Business of Belief is a prime example.
And this is where you see good old paper making a difference. Yes, we will admit that the Kindle Paperwhite with its e-ink display is the best digital device for reading books, but it still does not really match paper (perhaps simply because we have got so accustomed to it). You can lend a paper book a bit more easily than a device that costs upwards of Rs 10,000 (for the Paperwhite, which starts at Rs 10,999). The base Kindle model starts from Rs 5,999, but that doesn't have a touchscreen and glows not in the dark) and yes, it somehow seems more convenient to pick a book out of a rack than scroll through lists of them on a device. In reading terms, the difference between the Kindle and paper particularly comes to the fore when you are reading a book with illustrations or photographs in it - the Kindle cannot handle colour at all. That said, the Kindle does give you options that a paper book cannot - you can increase/decrease fonts as you wish, use an inbuilt dictionary to check word meanings, make notes without scribbling on the text and share excerpts smoothly on social networks. Oh, and in case of the Kindle Paperwhite, you can read it in the dark as well!
The cost of books
This was again a category in which paper books were miles ahead of their e-counterparts a year or so ago. The gap has however, narrowed, since to the extent that we now automatically check the price of an e-edition of a book whenever we see its paper counterpart. We still think paper books are generally lower priced than e-books, but the difference in prices is a lot lower than it was before, and in many cases, the e-editions are actually cheaper. There will be those who will point out that the Kindle Paperwhite itself will cost more than Rs 10,000, but well, you would spend close to as much on book racks for storing hundreds of books. And that actually is what the Kindle is - a sort of digital book rack.
Carrying and storing books
This is one point that tips the scales solidly in favour of the Kindle. You can comfortably store over a thousand books (provided you are not into heavily illustrated titles or graphic novels) on a single Kindle. Even the books that you remove from your device are stored on the cloud and can be downloaded later if you so wish. And you can carry the entire collection along with you wherever you go - imagine carrying more than a thousand books in a device weighing slightly more than one of those large phones that abound in the market these days (the Kindle Paperwhite weighs a very modest 222 grammes!). No book cases, no boxes to bother about. No need to spray racks with insecticide or dust them regularly.
So should you go the e-way?
The answer remains far from easy. Yes, when it comes to the "pure" reading experience, we still think paper holds an edge. But on the other hand, you have accessibility, portability and ease of storage, on the Kindle, along with the usual digital add-ons (inbuilt dictionary, non—messy notemaking and sharing on social networks). Honestly, we think the Kindle now matches paper titles in every department, barring perhaps those of heavily illustrated titles and graphic novels, which makes it quite a tough choice. There will be those who will talk of the feel of paper, there will be those who will point to the convenience of carrying ALL your books with you all the time...it really is up to you to choose, depending on your priorities.
(The author has been using a Kindle since 2010. But still purchases paper books. Claims to have the best of both worlds. The family are planning to lynch him for his expenses, that said.)