Ebooks for your loved one’s Christmas in-box
I have many fond memories of the gifts Santa Claus brought me in my childhood, but my most treasured memory came wrapped in an extra-large brown office envelope rather than a stocking.
In fact it wasn’t even placed under the Christmas tree but was discovered by one of my siblings on a chair in the dining room as she set the table for Christmas dinner. It was addressed to all of us children in my father’s unmistakeable handwriting, and there was a lengthy debate about whether to open it. (It hadn’t yet been given to us, after all.)
As we took turns pawing it, the inevitable happened: the envelope tore, and its contents fell out with a dramatic whoomp on the floor. There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the room when we realised that it contained books, not Barbies.
I still have the beautiful hardback books that had been so prosaically parcelled by my father as an afterthought late on Christmas Eve: a collected edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and a compilation of Alice’s adventures in her various wonderlands.
Between the blue-green marbled covers of these books I encountered my favourite Christmas story for the first time: The Little Match Girl, a seasonal tragedy first published in English in the same year as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Amid the butterfly-wing-thin pages I developed a lasting antipathy for precocious Alice, yet I still kept the book.
Books remain my favourite gift both to give and to receive at Christmas, and I am not alone. Christmas is the busiest season for publishing houses and bookshops, with attractive new versions of classics, decadently designed cookbooks, and high-profile fiction and nonfiction being published in late November to please Christmas shoppers’ much-researched tendencies.
It is easy to see why people value printed matter at this time of year. Books have an aesthetic and sentimental appeal. Their material form and unyielding content represent endurance. A book is seen as a present for life, and the Christmas-gift market is perhaps the only aspect of the traditional publishing industry that remains unthreatened by digital advances. Many an ereader or tablet will be tied up with a bow this Christmas, but more books than ebooks will be proffered as presents.
And yet. If it is late on Christmas Eve, and you are a few presents short of a full stocking, ebooks are one of the easiest presents to acquire at short notice, even – perhaps especially – at the eleventh hour.
You don’t need an ereader yourself to purchase one, just the email address of the person you’re buying it for. It is normally delivered as soon as you pay, but if you are more organised and this is not an emergency gift, you can also choose the date on which it will be delivered to the person’s account. Whoever you’re buying it for can open and upload it to a computer or smartphone if they don’t have a dedicated ereader.
On amazon.co.uk, the steps for buying an ebook as a present are simple. Just below the option to purchase on the ebook’s page, another option is available to “Give as a Gift”. (If the gift option doesn’t appear on the ebook’s page, it isn’t available for that particular ebook.)
Once you have bought the ebook you can send a personal message in lieu of a handwritten dedication – and, if the recipient doesn’t like it, it is even possible to return it, in exchange for an Amazon gift voucher.
There are two important things to take into account if you buy a digital book as a gift.
First, remember to check what sort of ereader the person you’re buying it for has, so you can ensure that what you choose is compatible with it. (This will mostly apply to whether the person is able to open iBooks.)
Second, iBooks will not allow you to choose a specific book; instead you have to buy a generic iTunes voucher, which the person you give it to can then use to buy an ebooks (or anything else from the store).
For some, receiving an ebook by email just isn’t the same as unwrapping a new hardback, but it is heartening to see that even prestigious coffee-table publishers such as Taschen and Phaidon have embraced the ebook market, so it is possible at least to give a beautiful ebook, even if it doesn’t exist in material form.
Some of the lusted-after books on my Christmas list this year are also available digitally: The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, celebrating the bicentenary of the tales’ first appearances in print, complete with read-aloud versions (Taschen, iTunes store, £8.99); Yes Is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution (Taschen, iTunes store, £8.99), a radical architectural manifesto in graphic form by the Copenhagen collective Big; and Tomi Ungerer’s Fog Island (Phaidon, iTunes store, $5.99), an instant illustrated children’s classic inspired by the American writer and illustrator’s relocation to Ireland.
That said, I will still be hoping that there will be at least one rectangular parcel under the tree for me this year. Even something in a brown envelope will do. You should never judge a book by its cover, after all.