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I like to read, especially on holiday when you can relax, soak up some sunshine and read a good book. Hardbacks are out, too heavy to hold up when you are lying on a sun bed, also why would you pay £20 for a book, when you could wait a few months and get the paperback for £7.99? Paperbacks are fine, but when you read them by the pool in the sunshine, the glue melts and the pages fall out. That happens more often than you would expect. If you are an avid reader, and take five or six books with you, they will fill your suitcase and add to the weight. There is an alternative.

Kindle. Kindle is the future, but there is a problem there too, but first let’s see what Kindle is, and isn’t.

Kindle is an ebook reader made by Amazon. It’s not a laptop or tablet. The technology has improved dramatically since the first one and the new versions are excellent. I’ve had one for a while, it’s like the one pictured above, now called Kindle Keyboard. Why do you need a keyboard on a book? Well you don’t actually, no book you ever bought had a keyboard. The newer versions don’t. The keyboard was useful for finding books in the store, but you can still do that on the newer versions via a pop up keyboard that you negotiate with the arrow keys, not so good, but you rarely need it anyway as you mainly buy Kindle books on your computer. My Kindle also has a speaker; you can get the Kindle to read a book to you! In practice it’s an electronic voice, not as good a Siri, and you would dislike it quite quickly. You don’t need that either.

The screen though is really excellent, it’s an E Ink display, which differs from most other displays you see. Screens on a Macbook Pro (or other laptop), or on iPad, (or other tablet), or an iPhone (or other not-as-smart-as-an-iPhone phone), all have LCD backlit displays. That means that the display is lit from behind, is bright and you can read it in the dark. The downside is you can’t read it in bright sunlight and the battery runs down really quickly, which is why laptops, tablets and smartphones have to be charged so often. The E Ink display on the Kindle looks like a page in a book, there is no ‘back lighting’ and so in the dark you can’t read it without having a light on, like a book, but you can read it in bright sunlight, like a book. Also, a single charge of a Kindle will last for up to a month.

Amazon have just released some new versions. The Keyboard version is still available but only with the 3g addition so you can download books when there is no WiFi, you don’t really need that either. It adds to the cost and the keyboard versions is ageing. Kindle Touch is a version where you touch the screen, rather than use buttons, but anyone who has ever used an Apple multi-touch screen will be disappointed using any other. Ever tried using an iPhone then trying to programme a TomTom SatNav? No comparison. The Kindle touch screen is not brilliant, but again you don’t need it. New in the UK is Kindle Fire. This is not really a Kindle at all, it’s a tablet, and is Amazon’s version of the iPad, but not as good. As it’s a backlit display it suffers from the problems mentioned above.

So in my opinion, the one to buy is the one simply called Kindle. It stores 1,400 books, great battery life, it’s lighter than a paperback, slips into your pocket and best of all costs only £69.

Here’s how they work. Open an account, if you don’t have one already, with Amazon. Once you have that, you can download books from Amazon via your computer or on the Kindle itself. Your credit card is charged for the book and it downloads, via WiFi, to your Kindle in 60 seconds. Amazon say they have 800,000 books for sale, with 650,000 for £3.99 or less. Many are priced at just 99p.

So where is the problem? Not with Amazon that’s for sure. Let’s look at some examples: Just at random then, a book called ’50 Shades of Grey’ by E L James, I haven’t read that so I have no idea what that is about, is priced on Amazon like this: Hardback £7.00, Paperback £3.78, Kindle download £3.02. Lee Child, a popular author, his book ‘The Affair’ is: Hardback £13.29, Paperback £4.79, Kindle download £3.79. That’s fine.

At the risk of making an already too long blog post even longer, you also need to remember that in the UK there is no VAT on books but there is VAT on digital downloads of books. That’s further complicated by the fact that Amazon Europe is based in Luxembourg where the VAT rate is only 15%, but the reduced rate of VAT is only 3%. Luxembourg has sold digital book downloads taxed at 3%. However the EU has now said that book downloads are not books as such but are ‘a service supplied electronically’ which does not qualify for the reduced rate. Even so Amazon can still sell them at 15%, making them a little cheaper than UK based download services.

The problem is with the publishers. Many publishers are insisting on setting the price that books can be sold for download. An example, John Grisham’s ‘Theodore Boone: The Abduction’ is Hardback £8.19, Paperback £3.86, but  Kindle download £4.49. If Amazon can sell a paperback at £3.86, which includes the cost of producing the paperback book, delivering it to Amazon, storing it, then delivering it to the customer, even allowing for the 15% VAT there is no justification for selling the digital version for more than the paperback. Unless the publishers want people to still buy paperbacks, although I can’t think why, this can only be explained by greed.

So publishers I challenge you to explain to me why a book that you have to pay to physically produce and distribute, costs less to buy than a digital download that costs you nothing to get to the customer. Until then I’ll continue to buy more of Amazon’s bargain downloads. Anyone know if that ’50 shades of grey’ is worth a read?