Tue, Feb. 25

Between the Lines: No post mortem for 'the book'

Almost every day in my bookstore, a customer will ask me if electronic books are going to put me out of business.

They almost always add that they personally don't like or purchase e-books but that the news is full of predictions of the demise of the printed page.

I've written about this before, but a recent article in Technology Review (the official publication of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), of all places, provides some interesting facts and contrary predictions to the doom and gloom forecasts that are garnering all the headlines.

First of all, despite erroneous claims by Amazon and others, e-books only represent 6 percent of current book sales.

That means that 94 percent of what's being purchased by you, the reader, are physical, not electronic, books

And, according to Christopher Mims, the author of the article, "the backlash against e-books by those who aren't so in love with technology for its own sake has yet to begin."

Mims describes a well-known phenomenon that almost always follows the introduction of a new, technological innovation, one that follows the peak of inflated expectations as to the utility of that innovation - the trough of disillusionment.

He argues that reader disillusionment will occur when they realize that an e-book has no resale value - they can't get part of their money back by trading it in at a used book store, nor can they get a tax deduction by donating it to a library.

Further, they can't loan an e-book to a friend or pass it along to someone else once read. And, e-books just don't look very good on a bookshelf.

Both Mims and I agree that e-books are here to stay and indeed fulfill some legitimate needs, particularly with respect to textbooks.

But predictions of e-books replacing physical books are generally without merit and tend to get distorted from paying too much attention to Amazon's advertising for its e-reader, the Kindle.

As I've written here before, in Amazon's perfect world of books, all books would be e-books, thus saving the expense of having warehouses all over the country and consequently increasing Amazon's already enormous bottom line.

Remember, "kindle" means "to burn" and I don't think this name was unintentional.

But, too bad for Amazon. Physical books, i.e., real books, are here to stay, thanks to readers like you and me!

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