I love books. They are the reason I became a librarian.
So I find the hubbub over ebooks and ebook readers bothersome. Sure, I wanted one. For a minute. But there are too many serious issues with them for me to buy in. Like: Not letting anyone borrow it. Or, and here’s the big one: Compatibility. Once a universal format is agreed upon, then maybe I’ll consider buying one.
But would I enjoy reading on a device? Maybe. Maybe not. Last night I downloaded The Scarlet Letter from Project Gutenberg to my Blackberry so I could read in our darkened living room while Ian rocked Elsa back to sleep. I wanted to stay in the room with them, but sometimes sitting on the couch in the dark with nothing to do seems rather unproductive to me.
One of my colleagues is on a Scarlet Letter kick telling me how she’s the unpopular, scandalous person in her grad-level literature course because she takes Hester’s side. She just had sex. That’s her argument. So far, I’m just really bored with the book. When will this story begin? It seems as though Hawthorne is taking his sweet time getting to the real story of the story. And that’s probably why I don’t read more “classics” of literature. I don’t enjoy meandering. Hawthorne needed an editor.
Reading the text on my Blackberry was slightly odious. My finger constantly rubbed the pearl to advance the text on my screen. It never stopped. I read fast. In this particular instance, the experience of reading a text on my phone was not that great.
This morning I heard a story on NPR about the demand for ebook readers. It got me thinking. One of the points of the story was that book buying is down. Book stores compete with online booksellers. And lose.
It wasn’t in the story, but here’s why more people buy online than in a brick and mortar store:
- it’s easier and quicker
- readers are alienated by chain bookstores
Compare going online, finding the book you need, ordering it, and having it shipped to your home–or to the recipient–to driving around town, fighting traffic, searching for a parking place, looking for books and possibly not finding them, then standing in line to buy the items, and then getting back in the car, back into traffic, and then driving home, etc.
Hands down, the online experience wins. Readers’ time is valuable. They could be reading instead of fighting traffic and spending so much time away from home, away from their personal libraries. Of course, if they have a kindle or nook or that sony ereader, they could read while queueing at the bookstore. But they shouldn’t read while driving.
Then there’s the alienation bit. And this is the crux of the matter for me. I despise the chain bookstores that serve my city. The clerks–and I’ve been a bookseller, so I’m not being unfair here, though I did work for an independent bookstore–aren’t…well, what? They’re interchangeable. They’re just bodies, doing a job.
The bookstore experience has changed. Gone are the days of having a relationship with your bookseller. Of considering your bookstore as a third space. The relationship changed. Readers don’t get any value from patronizing chain bookstores. Sure, there are discounted titles. But the stores are so corporate and hard-nosed with their policies that they don’t allow clerks any autonomy to make decisions that give readers any satisfaction.
And so the sorry state of bookstores is the reason why book sales are down. This is all anecdotal, of course. But if I, devoted reader and lover of bookstores that I am, feel this way, then surely other readers feel much the same.
Once the chain bookstores go out of business–and they just might with the proliferation of ereaders–there will be no bookstores serving many areas. And that’s the time for independent, locally owned bookstores to emerge from the rubble and serve the reading needs of their communities. But how long will that take? Five, ten years? Let’s hope.
Fingers crossed. And, still reading.