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What kind of LOSER sits in front of a PC...

...to read a book?

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Tablets don't count

Nor do we get proper - ie. widely sold and fully supported - access to kit that Americans have been toying with for ages, such as the Nooks, BeBooks or even the Android-based Amazon Fire.

Back wandering through the aisles at the London Book Fair, the only new e-book readers I could find in this world gathering of the publishing industry were a prototype Pyrus on the TrekStor stand and a row of tentative but unappealingly chunky crap from a Chinese manufacturer looking for European distributors. Expect to see these stocked in Maplin at some point.

Something for the Weekend, Sir?

The only other e-readers on show were two Kindles on the Amazon stand - literally; they only had two actual devices - and the current Kobos on the Kobo stand. There was also an over-enthusiastic man on an otherwise creepily vacant Nokia stand who tried to convince himself that his company wasn't on the verge of financial collapse by showing me how the forthcoming Lumia 900 smartphone will download my books, organise my photos, extend my life expectancy and suck my cock.

As usual, I ended up arguing with everyone about encrypted e-book copy protection - more accurately described as "built-in obsolescence" - the inability to lend e-books to friends and family, and the requirement for a PC and USB cable simply in order to import certain books onto an e-reader even if it has it own Wi-Fi or 3G connection.

For some reason, the rep on the Kobo stand didn't like it when I asked where my encrypted books will go if his company goes tits up in a few years from now. I can understand why people never like it when I ask what will happen if they go out of business, but it annoys me that they haven't considered the possibility.

Their response is always: "Everything will be fine, don't worry your pretty little head about it", which is total bunkum because what they're really thinking is: "I won't care because I'll be unemployed/dead/in the Cayman Islands with your money."

Homer Simpson reading on a tablet

Source: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

What I was looking for at the London Book Fair was a competitor to Amazon Kindles. While Amazon's enormous success in retail has given it the financial clout to develop a near-perfect e-book ownership experience - if you ignore the dopey .MOBI file format - it is surely not beyond the capacity of smaller organisations to do something similar. It might have been rocket science when Amazon first devised the Kindle devices and Kindle store, but today it's more like basic maths: eReader + Wi-Fi + cloud.

I appreciate that having more choice doesn't mean those choices will be better – as indeed we discovered with the privatisation of British railways and we will presently discover when the government's NHS reforms settle in – I don't enjoy being spoilt for lack of choice. ®

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He won't tell you which eBook reader device he owns but he uses it primarily to feed his pulp sci-fi addiction. Print books are nice too: his dad owns a couple of first-edition John Carter of Mars books in their original dust-jackets. Heh.

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