The Books Are Alright; Why Print Isn’t Doomed in the E-book Industry

Despite having grown up in a technologically-dominated age, in which everything from music, television, shopping, and even the way we spend time with other people is gradually becoming digitized, there’s one thing I can’t bring myself to adapt to, and that is using e-books. Reading is one of the first things I learned to enjoy, and I can attribute much of that to the feel of holding books; their rough pages, various covers and fonts, and the way they look stacked together on a shelf. Though I understand the benefits and simplicities reading e-books provide, I often feel concern for the future of books and bookstores, but it seems as though all is not lost.

With more and more bookstores closing (the most significant and disappointing was the bankruptcy of Borders Group on February 26, 2011), one can take comfort in that this decreases competition for remaining booksellers, particularly Barnes & Noble. In an article in the New Yorker from July 29 2013, James Surowiecki discusses how bookstores can survive the popularity of e-books by having something unique to offer- selling books. He points out that Barnes & Noble remains a successful retailer due to its hundreds of stores, many of them in locations which “generate foot traffic (which is good for surrounding stores)” and therefore the company has “considerable leverage with landlords and publishers”.

Surowiecki points out a flaw of Barnes & Noble’s; its stores being “too cluttered, often with non-book merchandise”, distracting from “showcasing its key product”. He believes that this, as well as friendly and attentive customer service, is what helps independent bookstores maintain their edge and stand their ground amongst a flailing industry. Employees at smaller bookstores can “help you not just find what you’re looking for but also help you discover books you haven’t heard of (Raff, Daniel)” Opinion, suggestion, and conversation may prove to have the upper hand in book selling, similar to how trying on clothes or having music recommended by a friend remain the most effective forms of sale; the human experience.

That is another important thing to remember, is how people experience or choose to experience something may not necessarily change despite the dramatic increase of technology everywhere you turn. While sales in music have been hurt due to the convenience of downloading, and not having to lug CDs around thanks to the invention of the iPod, people still crave the opportunity to personally identify with their favorite bands via live concerts and physical merchandise. People also enjoy the ability to escape when they read a physical book, can make notes inside of it, reread it, and loan it to their friends- the way reading a book makes us feel can never be changed with technology.

Surowiecki leaves us with some hopeful statistics, suggesting that people “read things differently when they’re on a page rather than on  a screen. A study this year found that people reading on a screen tend to skip around more and read less intensively” and that “people tend to comprehend less of what they read on a screen”. Gathering from Codex Group reports, he states that “ninety-seven per cent of people who read e-books said that they were still wedded to print, and only three per cent of frequent book buyers read only digital”.

To view the full article by James Surowiecki, click here: