Ebooks are faceless

Ebooks pose no problem because they don’t really exist. I mean they do as digital products, but unless they are stored, decoded and read on a device, they are just a file on a drive. So you wouldn’t see them anywhere.

Reader devices, on the other hand, have a problem, which is not usually taken seriously. It is their public facelessness. Let me explain. Many people read ebooks on their devices, be they Kindles, Kobos, Nooks, often in public places. One of the advantages of eReaders is that you can take them anywhere. So people take them on trains, at the beach, in cafés, you name it. When you read a paperback or a hardcover, others can see the cover, and the publishing industry, especially in the English-speaking countries, has for a long time taken the cover design very seriously. That helps sell books in bookshops, but it also gives a sense of curiosity to those whose eyes fall, often inadvertently, on the book being read in a public place. It might be a catchy title, a riveting cover design or a controversial tagline.

It is clear ebooks can’t do that. And when you’re reading an ebook on your favourite eReader, that reading experience belongs only to you. It is almost as though that book is trapped in your sole consumption. It is faceless and unable to attract someone else’s attention. Just imagine for a second a train where people are all reading books whose covers – colourful, intriguing, disturbing – you can see, and another where everyone is holding an eReader. If you’re not yourself reading, which train would you rather be on?

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