People often ask me what I think about the Kindle and other e-reader technology. I have briefly perused an article from the New Yorker on my friend's Kindle. I thought it was a fine enough experience. I suspect that e-readers are more that just a fad, but I am not sure how much of a dent they will make in traditional book sales. I know that e-readers have already affected my little store a bit. I had several customers who used to spend and average of $60-$100 a month on books. Then they told me they got Kindles last year and I have rarely seen them since. A customer and his wife inquired this past weekend if we would ever have the e-reader technology for sale, and the e-books to go with it. These are smart, no-nonsense people; people I admire. They wanted to buy this technology, from me. It made me pause. For the last four months I have been wondering if/when I should try to get a piece of the e-reader market. The technology is almost there for me through the American Bookseller's Association. It is likely that within the next six-to-eight months, thanks to the ABA I will be able to sell e-readers at my store (probably only the Sony version) and sell e-books on my website.
I am unsure, however, about the viability of these sales for my store. There is a significant initial investment in time and money to upgrade my website so that I can offer e-readers. Then there are monthly fees (which are not cheap) and whatever kind of routine management the website will need. Do enough people in Yamhill County want to be able to buy e-readers to warrant this investment? That is what I am trying to figure out. There are many catches. Kindle users can only get books from Amazon. Nook users can only get books from Barnes & Noble. Sony e-reader users can get books from independent booksellers. How many people will get a Sony vs a Kindle? Or a Nook? These are all questions I ponder.
There is always some big drama in bookselling. When I started as a bookseller, it was the early days of big box stores coming to steal market share from the small independents. Many small stores closed. But many of those were poorly run and probably would have closed soon anyway. This is an ongoing process, highlighted by the current lackluster economy. Then Amazon came onto the scene. Amazon was a threat to all bricks and mortar stores. Over and over I heard the death knell being rung for traditional bookstores. People were saying that in ten years, there would no longer be any stores for people to walk into to touch a book before they bought it. This was back in 1995. Again, there were many stores that closed, but many also adapted to what their customers wanted and became better at what they could reasonably deliver.
An article in this morning's New York Times actually prompted this post. The article (you can read it here) talks about the resurgence of vinyl records. Remember those? I bet you or your parents have a stack somewhere in the garage, likely in an old milk crate. In this article, there was one line that made me stop and laugh a bit: "And with the curious resurgence of vinyl, a parallel revival has emerged: The turntable, once thought to have taken up obsolescence with reel-to-reel and eight-track tape players, has been reborn." Hmm. Now, vinyl record sales are no where even close to what they used to be, but there is a ton of competition. And people are rediscovering the superior sound quality that vinyl produces. So here is the question: Will this happen with books? I mean in ten, maybe fifteen years, will people be so sick and tired of everything being so rush, rush? Will we discover that e-readers give off some kind of noxious gas that causes painful pink blisters on our faces when we are using them? Will technology come full circle, and like vinyl, we will rediscover the book? I wonder.