It was Christmas 2013: ‘Never, ever,’ I said when asked if I would like a Kindle. ‘Absolutely not,’ I replied when again offered one, this time as a birthday present. It simply wasn’t going to happen despite the fact that my insatiable appetite for the written word means that, on even the shortest holiday, I cannot relax unless I know I have ample reading material readily available. I like books. I like the feel of books, the smell of books, books which are cherished, books that I can share with my grandchildren, books that may be inscribed and given as gifts … real books.
Strictly speaking, I still don’t have a Kindle, but the following year , I reluctantly downloaded the Kindle App onto my ipad, and the reason for this unenthusiastic volte-face? Stena Line Ferries. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I detest flying. Unfortunately, my personal preference for boats over aeroplanes, held little sway when Stena decided, in 2015, to end the 180 year old passenger service to Dun Laoghaire which I used to visit my family. Notwithstanding the admittedly much reduced travel time, the only positive aspect, so far as I was concerned, is that a return flight costs barely more than half the ferry cost; that is, so long as you opt for hand luggage only … and therein lay the problem. Whilst I perfected the art of packing clothes, hair styling paraphernalia and the various cosmetic enhancers necessary for me to face the day, into the tiniest of suitcases, I failed miserably in working out a way to carry several books without exceeding the weight limit. Aer Lingus don’t even allow a handbag as an extra so no leeway there. Ryanair, in case you’re wondering, are a little more reasonable in this respect since they allow a small handbag, but with the best will in the world, the space in a small handbag is … well…small.
E-books are the answer, of course, but I am saddened by the way in which digital print media has had such a profound effect on the publishing industry. In 2012 almost one hundred publishers and seventy independent bookshops ceased trading. Already challenged by discount stores and internet sales of printed books, their problems were exacerbated by high sales of e-books which, of course, benefit from vastly lower production costs. Apparently, in 2014 only three hardback adult fiction books sold more than 100,000 copies.
But all may not be lost. Commercial digital media companies are driven by the need to satisfy shareholders who demand a good return. This means that independent publishers are still needed for niche books which don’t have mass appeal. To add strength to this admittedly tenuous lifeline, we can hope that the e-book phenomenon might replicate what happened in the 1980s when the advent of the compact disc decimated the vinyl music market. A generation later, in 2013, sales of vinyl records were at their highest for fifteen years and last year, it was reported that Tesco have started selling vinyl. The real book is not yet dead.
There was some talk of another company running ferries on this crossing but I have no idea whether this ever happened. I have since resigned myself to air travel on grounds of cost.