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Aug062011

Borders' Demise and the Fate of Tangible Books

   With the pending doom of one of the largest retail bookstores and the current rise in ebook sales, I can't help but wonder what is to become of my most beloved format of literature: the physical book, that lovely tome of murdered and pulverized trees glued in a hefty stack and etched with processed ink.  Yes, they can be bulky and difficult to carry (Oh, us fantasy authors, why must we write a minimum of 500 pages per book?!).  Yes, bookshelves can consume the majority of space in a room (esp. for bibliophiles), and then spill their contents onto your dresser, bed, laundry basket, etc.  God forbid one should fall on you if you bump into it, or look at it funny.  No one will ever find you in time.  I've had friends swear never to help me move again because of having to shlep my boxes of books up flights of stairs.  I honestly thought they would swear to never be my friends again after that!  They almost staged a protest complete with signs right by the moving van!  But despite their weight in bulk, there is something (pardon the horrible choice of descriptive wording here) "magical" about the physical book.  The smell (new and used), the sound of each page turning, the ache in your wrist after holding it up for too long (but you're so happy because that means it was a good read), fighting the wind because it keeps trying to turn the pages on you...  There is an EXPERIENCE to that.  It's something you can't get out of an ebook.  Plus, whenever people come over and you have to leave them standing in your living room, what's the first thing they look at?  Your bookshelves!  It's an excellent way to get to know someone.  It's also a great conversation starter or something to fill an awkward lull at someone's place.  I just have a hard time imagining a future with no tangible books where someone grabs their host's Kindle off the coffee table and starts scrolling down the menu to see what ebooks they have.  Even more awkward would be to ask, "Can I look at your Kindle?".  Uh... What?

   With the disappearance of Borders, then, does this mean Barnes and Noble is soon to follow?  They've already been up for sale.  Local bookstores have been struggling for ages.  I can't imagine that once the big corporations are gone, WalMart, Hastings, and Target are going to be able to keep the tangible book industry afloat, so what will this mean for publishers?  Currently there aren't any bestselling "ebook only" publications coming from them.  At least from what I've seen.  Normally the tangible book comes out, and the ebook follows at a lower price if it follows at all.  If all that's available are some bestsellers in hardcover and paperback that Amazon and aforementioned chain stores can push, ebooks are going to have to bring up the majority of sales.  Already, though, I'm hearing of authors finding creative ways out of these contracts with the publishers, or finding loopholes to gain more money.  The publishers don't seem to be taking these ebooks seriously yet.  Perhaps they should. 

   And what about childrens' books?  Young adult books and teen readers I can see making it into the digitized format no problem.  Textbooks on Kindle?  PLEASE!!!  They're already working on that, and coming up with "rental" programs for them.  Beginning readers, board books, etc...stuff for the really young children just learning to speak and read?  No way.  They love to get their hands on those books and turn the pages (and tear them apart, too, but, hey, we all did that).  It's about interacting.  So maybe thanks to them the physical book will never truly go away.  Eric Carle and his blinky fireflies will be around for a while, and so will that gluttonous caterpillar. 

  Where then will that leave the public libraries?  Will they become a cache of the antiquated format?  A treasury of what once was?  How will they keep up with new titles if they are not printed in physical form?  Would they be able to obtain enough funding to establish a rental system for ebooks like companies are doing for the textbooks?  I sure hope so.  I'd hate to see them struggle.

   So with all this in mind, I'm still digging through my old stacks of tangible books, looking for the ones I haven't read yet and plowing through them.  I own a Kindle.  I've put everything I've written onto it and am converting my books into proper Kindle format to sell.  I love that I don't have to carry a huge tome around with me and can instead have this sleek looking leather bound electronic device instead that weighs practically nothing.  However!  It does not smell like a book.  It makes an odd clicking noise when I 'turn pages" instead of an actual page turning noise and I miss that.  I can't tell how far into the book I am by its thickness anymore.  I can't easily skip ahead to a random part and read it, but have to go page by page (I don't know why I like doing that, but I do...it's one of my favorite things to do with a book I'm enjoying).  I can't dog-ear pages, and it won't look like I read it when I'm done with it.  There's something oddly satisfying about a book looking like you've read it, esp. when you've read it more than once.  It looks loved.  It looks experienced.  An ebook always looks fresh and new.  Maybe that can be exciting, too.       

     

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References (15)

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Reader Comments (2)

Ok here's a question for you what happens to us art lovers? I have many a book filled with pictures of my favorite artist. What's going to happen to them? Ebook can't show me the picture in color that I love to look at and use a reference to help me get out my own art. The smell is also a big part of a good art book too. Each one has a certain feel to it that an ebook can't match. It would be cool to have an art book in an e book but it would need to be bigger there are details that you just couldn't see on such a small ass screen. Don't get me wrong i like the ebook and what it's doing for authors and I love my kindle but still books have lives of their own that I don't think people realize.

I'm with you on this one Ms.Starr. It's sad to think its going to become like many dieing art forms now kept alive by a select few.

August 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterS

That's a really good question. Kindle can't handle color after all, and the Nook is probably going down with Barnes and Noble so...where does that leave scrapbooking as well? Geez. I would hope that the same fate of childrens' books would befall such treasures as art and photography books (ie-they would stick around). There is no way those can be transferred into digital. It's just not the same looking at them on a computer screen as flipping through a book. Although...having them on an HD screen would enhance them considerably and would get rid of that horrible indentation caused by the binding of the book and some idiot book designer's complete lack of intelligence.

August 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterJ Starr Welty

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