When I was 17, my first proper paid job was in the public library just down the road from the Elephant and Castle. It was the first time I had come across large print books. They had their own section, and there was a huge demand for them. But though it was much more intensely used, the selection was much more limited, partly because they served only a fairly small proportion of the library’s users, but partly of course because only a very narrow range of titles was produced in the first place. They looked very boring and very distinctive – no money was wasted on design or on attracting readers, the covers were just slabs of colour, and they stood out at fifty paces.
That was a long time ago.
A few months ago, I got a kindle, slightly accidentally – I hadn’t thought I wanted one. To my surprise, it has more or less instantly become my preferred means of reading book-length texts. There are several reasons for that, but this post isn’t yet another kindle-groupie breathless review, so I am going to focus on just one feature which, from what I have seen, had got relatively little attention.
You can adjust the size of the text.
The kindle destroys the concept of a large print book, because it’s not the book which has a print size any more, it’s the reader (in both senses, the device and its user).
That instantly means that I can adjust my kindle to a size which is comfortable for me, which is bigger than most publishers’ default, though much smaller than large print. That’s a really useful feature for me as an individual. But it also has much wider implications. It means that there is no reason why every book should not be available for every reader, it means that there isn’t a highly constrained choice of books for people with weaker sight, and it means that the arbitrary, binary, and stigmatising divide between ordinary books and the large print list goes away.
All of that makes the kindle a lovely example of technology which changes the context in which it operates.
Most of the borrowers of large print books all those years ago were elderly ladies. I doubt that their successors of today are high on the target list for Amazon’s marketing of the kindle. But their successors of tomorrow could find that an almost accidental characteristic of easy technological flexibility brings a segregated service and segregated customers into the mainstream.