A couple of days ago I started reading a new book. Not an exceptional occasion, true, but this is an actual book with pages and paper and ink. It got me to wondering about how things have changed so completely in the last few years. In the last year I’ve read a couple of hundred books. This includes a dozen or so that are specific to the classes I’ve taken. The rest of them, with only a few exceptions, have been in electronic media. When I go to the bookstore, it is for the purpose of holding new and newly released books in my hand and seeing them on the shelf. Then I look up the titles on Amazon to confirm they are available for the Kindle. Only if they are not available electronically do I consider purchasing the book at the bookstore.
Why has the ebook become not only a default format for me, but a preferred one as well? Portability, space, preference for trees still attached to the ground, and access. I can read far more comfortably on the Kindle (or more recently, my IPhone) than I ever could with a ‘real’ book. The contention with the spine goes away. I hardly ever lose my place, and I don’t need to carry a dictionary. Wikipedia is just a tap away (on the IPhone – it’s frustratingly complicated to get to the Internet on the Kindle).
What does all this mean to bookstores? Barnes and Noble as well as Borders both have dedicated much of their space to toys, puzzles, and board games. In the last several months, it seems like the fiction and literature section has shrunk while the mysteries, romance and sci fi sections have gotten larger. The space dedicated to large format ‘coffee table books,’ travel guides, maps and so forth has dramatically increased. And they both now greet customers not with the tables featuring new releases, but hawkers selling their own respective brands of ebook readers. Last week, in an area that used to be occupied by books pertaining to local interests (local history, flora and fauna, hiking trails, etc.) there was a class being conducted on how to use an ebook reader.
Being part of the reason all these changes have happened, I can hardly complain. Even so, when confronted with these tangible consequences of the shift to ebooks, there is more than a twinge of nostalgia for the good old days of finding books, stacks and stack of them, at a bookstore.