Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad? Tablet? Old-fashioned book?

I am really trying not to obsess too much about e-readers. At the same time, I don't want to be hit when I am already down and not anticipate a decline in sales at least partially due to electronic media. I really want to be realistic about my little store, but sometimes that is hard too.

At meetings with other booksellers, in conversations over coffee or beer, we speak about the e-reader and the future of our stores. I am concerned about my store, but more than that, I am concerned about the future of reading. Americans (honestly, probably all nationalities) read less and less these days. Newspapers are folding, publishing houses are limiting their print runs, and bookstores are closing. Someone tried to argue with me recently saying that blogs were perhaps filling the hole where newspapers once lived. I disagree. Most blogs that I read are fun and entertaining, but the quality of writing is poor. Anyone can start a blog (pot, meet kettle). It is free, no one rewrites or vetoes your stories. You don't even have to be a very good fact checker to claim something is true, or was written by you when it was clearly cut and paste from another source.

Several months ago, I had a chance to hear Tim Egan, author of The Big Burn and opinion writer for the New York Times. He spoke passionately about his love of independent bookstores. He best quote, which I may have written about before, was "You [referencing a room of independent bookstore owners] are the flu shot to active ignorance". I liked the metaphor. Today, Mr. Egan writes an article about Apple's latest instrument of technological prowess, the iPad. You can read it here. He doesn't come out and repeat his quote, but he does posit some good questions: if a bookstore is often considered the "living room" or "third place" of a community, what happens to a community when there is no such space?

Back to technology. I am trying to not spend so much time thinking about something over which I have no control. The future holds some kind of e-reader. I don't know which one. It is likely that when all the guns are out of ammo, there will only be one (maybe two) such technologies standing. When that happens, I will get on the bandwagon and stock those alongside the technology that has lasted generations, needs no batteries, and doesn't self-destruct if you spill coffee on it.