Bibliophile Goes Electronic

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The Kindle Touch is already eroding my purchase of hard copy books

by Christina Bonadio, Executive Editor, Actionable Intelligence

In my first OpEd column, I shared the tale of my steadily declining print volumes (see “Confessions of a Former Tree Killer”). I have known my reliance on hard copy was waning and my print volumes were dropping for a while. But, I’m an ardent book lover, and I was determined to remain an old-school hard copy bibliophile. As more and more folks adopted e-readers, I sneered. E-readers lack charm, I thought. They lack warmth, they lack the feel of the paper, they lack that new book smell, and they lack that old book smell. Besides, I was pretty sure you couldn’t take them in the bathtub without electrocuting yourself. No e-reader for me, I vowed as I continued reading the slightly waterlogged pages of my latest novel or nonfiction. But, I have a confession to make. I just received a Kindle Touch as a gift, and I love it. Since the holidays, I have purchased four Kindle books and none of old-fashioned hard copy variety.

I love never losing my place in a book, which is incredibly valuable when you have little time to read and long lags between reading sessions and a small child prone to removing bookmarks. I love that I can make the text bigger when I am tired or the lighting is dim or my eyes are feeling just plain old. I love that I can get a new book whenever it suits my fancy instantly. There are still issues related to reading in the tub, however. I don’t love the idea of electrocuting myself or frying the Kindle when reading in the bath. Message boards advised me to stick the Kindle in a Ziploc bag for reading, but alas, I can’t get the pages of the Kindle Touch to turn while it is ensconced in plastic. But really, the problems associated with aquatic reading are my only complaints. Maybe it is time to become an arid reader.

As anyone not living under a rock knows, e-readers are causing some major problems for traditional booksellers. The troubled bookseller Borders cited e-readers as one of the factors contributing to its bankruptcy and the liquidation of all stores. Of course, there were other factors in Borders’ decline as well, such as massive borrowing, expanding into CDs, opening too many stores, etc. But many have pointed out that Borders lagged behind Amazon and Barnes and Noble in jumping on the e-reader bandwagon, although Borders eventually partnered with Kobo to introduce an e-reader. Kobo remains an e-book provider (see Kobo’s statement following Borders’ liquidation).

According to RISI, while 57 books are purchased in the United States every second for a total of 5 millions books per day, a growing percentage of these are e-books. In 2009, e-books accounted for 3 percent of book sales. That grew to 8 percent in 2010. RISI projects that figure will grow to 15 to 20 percent of book sales in 2015. Obviously, this will have a significant affect on paper manufacturers.

RISI claims that an e-reader owner must purchase 22 books over the device’s life to have an environmental advantage, in terms of carbon emissions, over purchasing hard copy books. A little over three weeks in, I am 18 percent of the way to meeting that goal. I don’t think I would have purchased or read quite so many books in a little over two weeks without an e-reader.

Also of note in my steady erosion of paper, for the first time in my life, I have actually gotten rid of some books. I am not sure to what extent the Kindle inspired this decision, but I recently weeded through my book closet and collected various books for donation. “What a book closet?” you ask. Well, it used to be a shamefully messy part of my home that I could only be induced to showing others after a couple glasses of wine. Because my bookshelves are crammed, I have been shoving all the extra books into the closet in my home office, resulting in mini avalanches anytime the closet door was opened.

The slightly less shameful version of my book closet

I recently sorted through the shameful closet and made some decisions. I kept the lovely hardbound books, reference books, and books I loved. But anything of dubious enjoyment purchased at a drugstore or at a hotel gift shop while on vacation went. So The Divine Comedy was a keeper and Divine Secrets of The Ya Ya Sisterhood went. Before I sound too highfalutin, I must point out that I kept The Zombie Survival Guide just in case. I still have overflowing bookshelves and a book closet, but now with some of the hard copy books gone, my home office is better organized. I suspect I will purchase far fewer hard copy books in the future, so it will hopefully be a while before conditions once again get out of control.

I still can’t imagine an e-reader replacing all my books. My dream is having a home office with lots of beautiful custom shelving crammed with books and maybe a fireplace. A butler would be nice, too. But I suspect that for me and many others that will remain a dream. After all, most homes are not the size of libraries, but you can pack 3,000 books on a Kindle.

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