Friday, July 23, 2010

Vive la Révolution?

I have been avoided writing about the e-book and e-readers because I'm not really sure what to say about them. I mean, they're out there, so there's that. People use them, there's that too. Otherwise, the debate about whether or not they're a good thing depends on where you stand. For literacy advocated they're great because people who might not otherwise have picked up a big book are reading again. For publishers the waters a little murkier. For traditional booksellers, e-books don't fit into their business plan, so either they don't worry about them or they worry about them a lot.

Personally, I think the e-reader could be a great thing for newspaper subscribers, but I'm a fan of turning the pages of books and magazines (and, it should be said, newspapers too) and I know I'm not alone in that. I also like having books around, and not worrying that their battery will die when I'm in the middle of a suspenseful part, or that spilling tea on them will mean they stop working. Call me old-fashioned.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Amazon's e-book sales for the last three months outnumbered their sales of hardcover books (the declined to say where their sales of paperbacks fall in relation to e-books, but it's assumed that they are still their highest sellers). The thing is, I think this is a good thing.

Just this week I was saying that independent bookstores would be better off if we stopped buying discounted books at big chains and shopped at smaller establishments. Well, maybe that time is coming. If Amazon and its ilk find more success selling e-books to their customers (who, of course, have already purchased some sort of e-reader) and leave the discounted books alone, so much the better. It makes total sense to me that e-books are on online commodity, a reality that nicely compliments the more personal nature of going out to browse a local bookstore. 

I'm not saying we should divide in to camps – Luddites vs. the tech-savvy – I'm just saying that the "everything in its place" axiom works in the context of the emerging e-book business. I'm not worried about the physical book becoming obsolete (I mean, we're witnessing the renewed vogue of vinyl records in the age of the mp3 for heaven's sake), and I am all for people experiencing literature in the way that suits them: paperback, hardback, e-book or audiobook. Markets will spring up to serve all these desires, and in the long run that may help save our local bookstores.

Image courtesy of Online Universities Weblog.

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