Seven Days has a fantastic article in their latest issue on the rise of eBook readers and the relationship between hard-copy books, new and used:
But are e-readers the solution to a rising tide of books? Or do they spell the end of the book? To find out, I talked with local authors, bookstore owners, librarians, a publisher and an expert on e-waste. I heard from people who love e-readers and people who revile them. I learned that the new tech doesn’t have to put you in thrall to Amazon. I also learned that, if you want to assuage your eco-conscience with a shiny new iPad or Kindle, forget it.
E-books cannot be ignored: Their overall sales increased by nearly 165 percent in 2010. Best-selling Vermont novelist Chris Bohjalian has seen the meteoric change firsthand. “Only about 3 percent of unit sales for my 2008 novel, Skeletons at the Feast, were digital, while easily 40 percent of unit sales for my most recent novel, 2010’s Secrets of Eden, have been digital,” he writes.
But, if e-books are popular, they aren’t exactly beloved. Bohjalian notes, “As a culture we have a totemic connection with paper books that is a half millennium long.” Michael DeSanto, owner of Phoenix Books in Essex, compares paper books to daylilies. “When I buy a book,” he says, “I’m buying more than the brief life of an electronic image on my screen. I’m buying a lovely flower for my garden.”
Penny McConnel sells e-books through her Norwich Bookstore, thanks to a new agreement between the American Booksellers Association and Google Books. But she says her customers mainly use e-readers for convenience when they travel, not because they like them. “About 99 and four-one-hundredths of the people who come into this store say, ‘Oh, yeah, I have an e-reader. But when I’m just reading, I want a book,’” she says.
A dissenter from the Books Are Better chorus is Jim DeFilippi of Colchester. When he started using an e-reader, the retired high school teacher had doubts, he says, but “now that’s all I read. I’ve gotten completely used to it. A lot of traditional people will say, ‘No, I need the feel of a traditional book in my hands,’ but give them a week with a Kindle, and that’ll be all behind them.”
As someone who’s worked at a chain bookstore, I can remember some of the inherent waste that we’d incur over the course of a business cycle: paperback books that weren’t sold had their covers stripped, while the books were tipped into the dumpster in back. We’re receive a regular box with a single paperback inside, while we’d receive more books that we sold, shipping the hardcovers back to the distributor to be resold. The entire book distribution industry felt incredible inefficient and wasteful on a number of levels. On one hand, Borders (which owned Waldenbooks), was not all that great in the first place – I think that a large reason for their failures in recent years has been because they haven’t been able to eliminate these problems, or even recognize them.
eBook readers allow for a smoother transition from author or publisher to consumers, and I’m sure that there’s some savings in costs – environmental and fiscal – there, but one also has to keep in mind (as this article does) the costs of putting together a complicated electronic, from the environmental cost of mining, shipping it across the ocean and the cost of labor in a country that doesn’t treat their workforce all that well.
That all being said, I’ve been using an iPad for almost a year now, and I’ve found it to be good for reading books – at night, it’s helpful read without an extra light keeping my fiancée awake, or on the road when I’ve got a limited amount of space. That being said, to read, I prefer the hard-copy book, because I’m not likely going to delete the file, or worry about my iTunes library deciding not to show up for the day (which has happened, several times), and picking up a book means it’s reading time, not a time when I can be more distracted with more functions.