January 13, 2010


Review by Hereward L. M. Proops

As most aspiring writers will tell you, breaking into the world of publishing is a dishearteningly difficult task. Most big-name publishers won’t even consider an author without representation by a well-established literary agent, regardless of the quality of their manuscript. In order to keep up with the big-boys, small presses are increasingly opting for safe-bet publications (misery memoirs, generic thrillers and tween-vampire romances) rather than risk investing their limited funds on something that dares to be a bit different. The publishing world is an increasingly homogenised culture, apparently motivated by an insatiable desire for profit. My stomach turns when I step into a bookshop only to see the shelves cluttered with ghost-written celebrity biographies and the artless scribbling of Dan Brown-a-likes.

A case of sour grapes? Yes, undoubtedly. As a struggling writer, I think it is my right - nay – my duty to rail against the publication of such “books”. We live in a world where Harper Collins gives a five million pound book deal to Cheryl Cole for a series of books she hasn’t even written yet. The same publishers (pestilential shit-heels that they are) gave footballer Wayne Rooney a three book deal for his autobiographies. Come on! Have they gone mad? I very much doubt he can even hold onto a crayon without chewing it, let alone spell his own name. The writing is on the wall for anyone who cares to look at it... The big publishers no longer care about genuine writers – they’re only interested in celebrities. If you aren’t a footballer or being knobbed by a footballer, your chances of making it past the slush pile are exceedingly slim. The prevalence of such cynical practices in the publishing world is already leading to a rapidly narrowing spectrum of choice. It is these reasons (and a box full of rejection slips from agents and publishers) that has led me to become interested in eBooks.

Like MP3s and the enormous bitch-slap they gave to the record industry, the eBook has the potential to do a lot of damage to the world of publishing. It is no surprise that so many big publishers have started pouring money into the new technology in order to keep one step ahead of the competition. It is now possible to instantly download eBooks of the latest releases from most online book stores and they are (normally) cheaper than the hard copy of which you would wait two or three days to be delivered.

Amazon’s expensive but technically impressive Kindle has sold very well this year, as have Sony’s range of eBook readers (linked in the UK to Waterstones bookstores). However, the high price of the new technology has proved daunting for many and it is with this in mind that Interead has developed the Cool-er eBook reader. If the Kindle, with its wireless technology is the eBook reader equivalent of an iPod touch, then the Cool-er is like a no frills MP3 player. Priced at about £180 (or $250), the Cool-er is cheaper than most of its competitors. Though lacking the online functionality of Kindle, the Cool-er is still a solid piece of hardware, quite capable of giving the better known brands a run for their money.

Looking suspiciously like an iPod (even coming in a similar range of colours), the Cool-er is far more aesthetically pleasing than its closest rivals. Navigation through the menus is done with a large button (that bears more than a passing resemblance to the iPod’s wheel) located on the front of the unit . Whilst simplistic and intuitive, this design does mean that numerous clicks through menus are required to access a book. The Cool-er has been created for the less tech-savvy of us out there and the menus and functions are fairly easy to navigate. The Cool-er has enough onboard memory (1 Gig) to store a decent size collection of books but can take standard SD cards should you wish to store more. There is also an MP3 player and Sudoku game built in should you tire of reading. The unit is lightweight and no larger than a paperback book. Alas, I doubt it is a sturdy as a book so the more accident-prone would be wise to invest in a protective case for it. The battery life on the machine is impressive – one charge of approximately three hours will last between 7,000 and 8,000 page turns and as the machine uses very little juice displaying the pages and can be left on indefinitely.

Technical specs aside, the real question is – What is it like to read from? Well, the fancy e-ink technology means that the screen doesn’t tire your eyes like a monitor does – in fact, it is just like reading text on paper except with a click of the button, the text changes to the next page. Though it is possible to change the font and font size, I have discovered that some eBooks are formatted in such a way that altering the font size leaves the text clumsily spaced out like some kind of amateurish free verse. Another negative aspect is that some may find the slight delay as the new page “loads” after a button-click just a fraction too long. I am assured that the delay for a page-turn on the Cool-er is significantly quicker than many other e-Book readers and it is something one soon grows used to. Loading texts onto the Cool-er is a doddle (no more complicated than copying and pasting files from a memory stick) though accessing books through Adobe’s Digital Editions software (used for encrypted PDF files) is a bit more fiddly. That, however, is the fault of Adobe’s downloadable software, not the hardware. Using the Cool-Books store (http://www.coolerbooks.co.uk/) and the rather wonderful Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/), I was able to download a number of eBooks in a very short space of time. If you are considering getting an eBook reader, Project Gutenberg is well worth a visit. An online repository of books whose copyright has expired, it is a great place to track down texts that are no longer in print. Best of all, it is totally free.

Will it replace the traditional book, that masterpiece of design that has endured for so long? In a word: No. Whilst the Cool-er is a great gadget and undoubtedly one of the most user-friendly eBook readers out there, it can never replicate the whole experience of reading from a book. For example, I doubt many would feel confident enough to read one whilst having a bath. Nor do I think the Cool-er is capable of reproducing that glorious “new-book-smell” or that satisfying creak of the spine as the book is opened for the first time. It is easy to sneak a peek at someone’s bookshelves when visiting their house but less so to access their digital library (“Excuse me, mind if I have a nose through this so I can make judgements about you based on your reading habits? - Oh, come on! We all do it!). Regardless of how trendy a device it is, the Cool-er is incapable of decorating a room like a collection of books. However, I do feel empowered by this gadget. EBooks have the potential to enable anyone to see their work in print and receive payment for their efforts. Whilst eBooks will never completely replace print editions, over the next few years I wholeheartedly expect a massive growth in their popularity. In essence, the advent of eBooks heralds the end of the big-name publishers’ dominance of the book market and that is no bad thing. Rejoice, the revolution starts here!

Hereward L. M. Proops

* By the way, if anyone from Harper Collins or any other big-name publisher is reading this, I don’t really hate you. I’d be more than happy to sell you my novel should you come a-knocking with a wheelbarrow full of money. *

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