Sunday Salon: “E-books vs. Print Books” is a Bogus Argument

The Sunday

Although my husband is (almost) unfailingly supportive of my bookstore fetish, I don’t think he shares my dismay over the fact that we now live in a town without one. He likens the decline of bricks-and-mortar bookstores to the disappearance of record stores, which were being done in–first by big-box retailers, then by digital media–for years before the book-format wars began. He loved hanging out in record stores, and he misses album-cover art and sleeves with lyrics in non-microscopic print…but he appreciates being able to buy just the songs he wants off those albums, and to carry hundreds of his favorite songs in his pocket. Record stores aren’t quite extinct, but the survivors are supplying a specialty product to a niche market.

His prediction is that eventually–maybe even within a decade–print books will become a specialty product for a niche market too, and everyone else will be reading e-books (in various formats on their devices of choice).

I hope he’s wrong, but I think maybe he’s not, at least partially. I’m not sure his record store/bookstore analogy is perfect, and some market research has shown that e-book buyers are still buying print books as well. But would it really be a sign of the apocalypse if e-books did become the dominant way to read?

Jonathan Franzen may think so. I hope he’s wrong too.

I love the experience of browsing in a bookstore, and it’s hard for me to envision not feeling that way. But when I know exactly what book I want…well, lately, living in my town without a bookstore, I find myself just as likely to download it on my Kindle or iPad (which I’ve outfitted with both the Kindle and IndieBound Reader apps in addition to the native iBooks–I have multi-format capability). I may not get around to reading those downloads all that much sooner; in fact, sometimes it may take even longer to get to them, since I don’t see them to be reminded that they’re residents of TBR Purgatory. On the other hand, they’re not increasing the book clutter around my house. (On the other other hand, I like book clutter!)

Overall, though, I’m pretty much in agreement with what Jonathan Segura says in this post on NPR’s Monkey See blog:

“Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a print book person or an e-book person. It’s not an either/or proposition. You can choose to have your text delivered on paper with a pretty cover, or you can choose to have it delivered over the air to your sleek little device. You can even play it way loose and read in both formats !Crazy, right? To have choice. Neither is better or worse — for you, for the economy, for the sake of ‘responsible self-government.’ We should worry less about how people get their books and — say it with me now! — just be glad that people are reading.”

I love being surrounded by books, but not as objects (unless they’re signed by the author); I love them for the stories they contain. If printed books do become a niche-market item, I’ll be in that market. But I’ll be in the e-book market too, because it’s here to stay…and I must have my stories, however they come. I must be reading.

Have you been holding out against the e-book? Have you embraced it? And has it taken anything away from your love of the printed word?

Happy Super Bowl Sunday to you football fans and anyone else who will be observing it today! We’re off to the Getty Villa and a day along the coast–I’ll have my Kindle with me to do some reading along the way. We’re recording the Puppy Bowl to watch after we get home. 

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