Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Paper or Plastic?

by Marion Ueckermann

I bought a Kindle today. How exciting is that? For months I’ve been dreaming of taking the plunge, and today I finally did. I followed Nike and just did it! I know I’m going to be checking the Amazon website far too many times over the next few days, tracking my shipment as it makes its way to South Africa from the USA.

As I purchased my Kindle, I couldn’t help sparing a thought for dear old Martin. He and his wife, Carolanne, are members of our unique little cell group which consists of, amongst others, Shann (a headmistress and writer) and her husband Neil , Tex and Rita (both writers, and Rita is also an editor), Martin and Carolanne (second-hand bookshop owners), Janey (who has tried her hand at writing too) and myself (a writer – unpublished, but nevertheless, a writer).

All of us have a common interest in our love of words, both in reading and writing.

Martin is what we call in South Africa a “grapjas diddi” (gosh I hope I spelt that right). In English that merely means he’s somewhat of a joker. So, the reason that Martin was on my mind was because at cell last week he asked the group to pray for wisdom for him of how he was to handle his business going into the future. The threat of the electronic market and its impact on book sales clearly weighed on his mind.

The word is out: Kindle books are outselling paperbacks at and stats show that e-readers are buying more fiction than non-fiction. I wonder why. Is it the instantaneousness of e-books? Is it because you get more book for your Dollar, Euro, Pound, Rand? Is it an issue of space-saving?

As I pondered Martin and Carolanne’s situation, I couldn’t help but wonder how the growing e-book market will affect their little second-hand bookstore. And what about our libraries. Will they continue to exist way into the 21st Century? Imagine the following scenario...could this be a librarian’s future nightmare?

     Gazing at the rectangular card slid across the counter by shaky fingers, Sally the librarian smiles. “Paper or plastic, ma’am?”

     A puzzled look meets hers and she wonders whether the snow-haired customer is hard of hearing. So she raises her voice slightly and asks again, directing the question at the husband this time. “Paper or plastic?”

     “Good golly gosh, young lady, this is a li-bra-ry, not a supermarket!” The elderly gentleman is clearly annoyed.

     “Shhhh,” comes the response from a group seated in the corner.

     Sally tries not to wince as she wipes away tiny splatters of spittle from her fingers, the syllabled “library” still ringing in her ears. She glances down at their library card, worn from years of use—George and Mavis Wilson.

     “It’s Tuesday morning,” she whispers, “the Golden Years Reading Club’s golden hour.” Sally smiles as she reaches under the counter and retrieves her Kindle. She places it carefully on the counter, knowing she should probably be steering the aging couple to the “golden corner” rather than trying to interest them in high tech. But she’d been tasked to educate whoever walked through the library doors about the electronic age and the options available.

     Mavis squeals in delight. “Oh look, George. We should get one of these calculators. Look how big the screen is...we’d be able to read the numbers on this one.” A giggle escapes from her wrinkled lips. “Perhaps we’d be able to balance our budget with one of these.”

     “Don’t be so dense, Mavis. That’s no calculator. Calculators have numbers on their buttons, not letters.” He frowns, glaring down at Sally. “What in tarnation is that thing?”

     “It’s a Kindle, sir.”

     Mavis smiles as she wraps her trembling fingers around the player’s slender edges. “A Kringle?” She lifts the slender object to examine it more closely, confusion rippling across her face. “Oh, now I see... It’s a remote control. So, where is the little Santa this thing operates?” Her fingers tap the keys as her eyes dart around the room.

     George’s neck and cheeks darken to a rose-color. “Don’t be dense, Mavis. She said Kindle, not Kringle. This—this thing has nothing to do with Christmas.”

     Sally giggles. This is going to take a while.

     George frowns and her smile quickly disappears.

     “On the contrary, Mr. Wilson, they do have something to do with Christmas. Kindle wireless reading devices have become exceptionally popular as Yuletide gifts, as have their counterpart, Nook.”

     “Mavis...Mavis, did you hear that? She just called me a gook. Young lady, I find that highly offensive!” Wide-eyed, Mavis looks up at George as he mumbles. “Of course not, your hearing’s worse than mine.”

     “No—no, sir. I said Nook. N-O-O-K. It’s a device similar to this one.”

     With a grunt George Wilson retorts. “So how does this contraption work? What can it do? And make it snappy, young lady, we only popped in to get a book each to read this week.”

     Sally turns on her Kindle. Within seconds, Kiera Knightly and Rupert Friend, a.k.a. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Wickham, come to life, timelessly bound in a tender love-torn moment as the book cover appears on the screen. Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, my current reading matter, will make an excellent example to show them the power of the Kindle.

     “As you can see and feel, it’s as thin as a magazine and the beauty is that it reads just like real paper, without the bulkiness. There’s no glare on the display, so you can read in the sunlight.” Sally whips out a clip-on light from under the counter. “And if you want to read in the dark, you just clip this little light to the device."

     Mavis stares, enthralled, as Sally’s hand disappears once more beneath the counter. She retrieves her tiny earphones and plugs them into the Kindle, slowly placing one beside Mavis’s left ear, and one beside George’s right ear. “And If you’re just too tired to read but can’t sleep, pop these in, lie back and listen with the read-to-me feature. You can leave your tired spouse to rest in peace while you still enjoy your favourite story way into the night.”

     “That’s so fascinating, dearie. How long can we sign them out for?” Mavis asks keenly.

     “Oh no, Mrs. Wilson, you need to buy your own.”

     “Oh. And how much does one cost?”

     “They range from $139 to $379.”

     Mavis’ eyes light up. “Only $1.39? Even at $3.79 that’s dirt cheap. I think I’ll take a whole bunch. Let me see, I’ll take that one...” She points to the Kindle in Sally’s hands. “Pride and Predjudice... And do you have Little Women? I love Little Women. What about Gone with the Wind?”

     Sally places her hand over Mavis’s. “I think you misunderstood me, Mrs. Wilson. The cheapest Kindle is one hundred and thirty nine dollars and—”

     George’s brows shoot up like thirsty grass after a gentle rain. “Good grief, young lady! At those prices, how do you ever hope to get anyone to buy those things? Nobody can afford to read anything in that format. Give me good old paperbacks—new ones are a tenth of the price, and less.”

     “No, sir, you’ve misunderstood. You don’t buy one Kindle per book; you buy one Kindle—period! Thereafter, all your books get stored in this one little space. Up to 3,500 books on one slender device. Why, you can carry an entire library, and more, right here. Plus, e-books are a fraction of the cost of paperbacks.” Sally wiggles the Kindle in her hand. “Think about your overflowing bookshelves at home, then imagine all of that reduced to just this.”

     “That certainly sounds tempting, my dear.” Mavis Wilson turns to her husband. “Just think, George, I could have more space in the house and you wouldn’t have to sleep with your pillow over your head.” She leans over to Sally and whispers. “I have trouble sleeping sometimes; that’s when I love to read—it helps me fall asleep. Of course, George hates it, and within no time the pillow goes over his head in his attempt to dissuade me from having the light on.”

     Sally laughs, amused at the picture of grumpy George forming in her mind. “Well, with a Kindle you won’t have that problem. Keep the bedside light off and read under the blankets.”

     George turns to Mavis. By now his neck vein is pulsating. “And when that little sucker’s battery dies in the middle of the night, just when you’re about to find out who done it... What then? Who’s going to get out of bed to get a fresh pack of batteries at the nearest drug store?”

     “Oh no, sir. The Kindle is electrically charged, or through a USB connection to your computer. Just plug it in and recharge when the battery’s low, but it’s hardly likely that your Kindle will go flat as you can read for up to two months on a single charge.”

     “Dearie, I’m sure this Kindeley thing comes with all the modern books you young folk like, but would we get anything we like to read?”

     “Of course, Mrs. Wilson. As you saw, I’m currently reading Jane Austin. With over 1.8 million free pre-1923 books available, I’m sure you’ll find something you like.”

     Mavis chuckles. “Well, that’s an awful lot of books. Don’t rightly think I’d get through the half of them.”

     “I don’t think anybody would, but you certainly have a lot to choose from. Did you know that Mr. Wilson can even read his newspaper on a Kindle?”

     George raises his eyebrows. “And just how small do you think the print is going to be to fit a newspaper on a screen that size?”

     “You only read one article at a time, Mr. Wilson. But you can also increase the font size to suit yourself, whether you’re reading a book, magazine or newspaper. It’s really a versatile gadget that can suit everyone’s individual needs.”

     George Wilson glares, unimpressed.

     Sally clears her throat and picks up the Kindle. She returns it back beneath the counter, deciding that the older generation has had enough education for one day. There was just no way she had the energy to explain the added features like 3G, wi-fi, global coverage, PDF reader... Maybe next time.

     “Now then, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, what books can I help you with today?”

Thankfully, this story’s pure fiction. But there’s no doubt, e-books have certainly changed the face of shopping for reading material. Instant electronic downloads... Reading within 60 seconds of a purchase...

Will the unstoppable electronic age be the demise of the timeless paperback? I, for one, certainly hope not. Even though I can’t wait to receive my Kindle, there’s still nothing like curling up in bed or on a sofa with a good book. The feel of paper between your fingers, front cover meeting back as you bend the pages around while you snuggle deeper beneath the blankets. You just can’t feel that with an E-Reader.

So what’s your preference? Paper or plastic? Do you favour the electronic revolution, or do you feel it’s a treat to the very existence of the hard copy book? Do you also wonder what the face of publishing will look like a decade from now?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below.

MARION UECKERMANN’s writing passion was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then Marion has been honing her skills and has published some devotional articles in Winners at Work as well as inspirational poetry online and in a poetry journal. She has written her first Christian Women’s novel (unpublished), is currently completing the sequel as well as a Historical Romance novel. Marion now lives in Pretoria East, South Africa with her husband, sons and a crazy black ‘Scottie’. A member and moderator of the Christian Writers of South Africa, Marion can be contacted via email on marionu(at)telkomsa(dot)net.


  1. Oh you will love the Kindle mine arrived in about 5 or 6 days to country Australia I was shocked.I still love real books and will still buy them as there are so many books Aussies cant buy for the kindle when they are first released (for example Love Inspired books we have to wait 2 years) You may find the same with some books too. I know here its the copyright laws. Oh I went on a bus trip left before sunup and had to wait for the sun to get up to use the kindle I so wish it had a back light.

  2. I think i will always love the paperback!!! I used to work at a technology company where all the latest gadgets were always brought to my attention either before or on the brink of release and so i was exposed to the idea of the kindle way before it hit South African soil... It just didn't grip me. Needless to say i am NOT tech-savy and so very little about the technology world appeals to me that much. (quite ironic for me to have worked in that environment -perhaps that's why i left after one year!) I won't say that i will never get a kindle. I'm a stay at home mom at the moment and therefore have more time to explore my love and passion for writing now and should i get a Kindle it would be 1) for convenience sake 2) to keep up with technology as it is bound to change the face of publishing. However, paperback will always remain in my opinion. Either that or we will go full circle and end up still loving paper! We go full circle with almost everything in society, fashion, hair, make-up, food, etc. No matter how 'big' and different and revolutionary trends seem to go... The 'simple' remains true!

  3. I won a kindle just before last Christmas and I love it. I think the ebook craze is here to stay and likely won't be the only change we'll see in publishing in the next while. There's a Canadian company that is producing gift cards for ebooks - they're really cool, with covers that describe the book - that will help bookstores -they can have them on a rack just like the phone cards etc. in the grocery stores.
    I've published 3 ebooks on Smashwords, including a devotional for writers called Abundant Rain - check it out at
    The coolest thing about it is that anyone anywhere can download my work for any ebook platform. Love it! :)

  4. I've had a Kindle for about six months, and I'm doing about half my reading on it currently. I read for quite a few book tours that send paperbacks out, or the number of paper books would be less for me. The only paperbacks I'm actually buying are ones to complete sets I've already started.

    One of these recent purchases seems to have a smaller, thinner font (can't be that my eyes are getting worse!) and too much in italics, making it very difficult to read when I'm tired. If I had it on the Kindle, I could simply increase the font size.

  5. A Kindle is top of my "Must Have Soon" list. Two weeks ago, I actually had some money in my PayPal account which I couldn't bring back to S.Africa, so decided to buy a Kindle. That's when I discovered Amazon doesn't do PayPal! Now how weird is that?! I ended up using part of the money on a writing course . . . on writing and publishing e-books! So yes, the Kindle is still at the top of that list. I look forward to hearing from you Marion when yours arrives: how long it takes and what you end up paying our beloved (?) customs!

  6. Oh, that scenario killed me Marion! I've got to get myself out of that "way we used to do things" routine and order one!

  7. Both! I love my Kindle and I love my print books! I read about 50% paper and 50% plastic.

  8. I love my Kindle although I still enjoy reading and holding a print book. The Kindle night light is a great feature and I like being able to change the font size. I probably now buy 80% ebooks and 20% print books.

  9. Hi Marion,
    Way to go...
    Love the Brand name Kindle- 'to spark, to start, to cause'. That's what a book should do, whether paper or plastic.
    Although having recently spent time in Bath - the Jane Austin one... I wonder how she may have felt about a plastic 'Pride and Prejudice'!
    Personally, I feel as long as people read that's all that matters.
    Hope to see an e-book from you soon