A Guest Post by Kim Allen-Niesen, co-founder of Bookstore People
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When I tell people I write a blog about independent bookstores, the discussion quickly turns to e-books. Aren’t they the death knell for bookstores? Aren’t I beating a dead horse by promoting visiting and shopping at bookstores?
I received a Kindle for Christmas, 2008. I read the New York Times and half a book before putting it away in my bottom drawer. My husband tried it twice. My teenage son tried it once. My son may have used it more, but it’s one thing to lose a book and quite another to lose a $399 Kindle. A Zogby poll just over a year ago showed that 82% of readers preferred a printed book to an e-book. Cuddling up to a screen isn’t inviting to many.
Literary agent Bonnie Nadell said at the LA Times Festival of Books that she prints out material sent to her electronically because reading on a screen converts everything to the same voice. I agree, for me it is a fairly flat voice. Also, I find with screen reading that my concentration level is lower. The researcher Jakob Nielsen proved my point scientifically by testing 232 people on how they read from screens. The research subjects tended to skim. In fact, Mr. Nielsen noticed an “F” pattern. People read the top, then down the side and taper off towards the middle. Just like me.
Booksellers, Allison Reid and John Evans of Diesel, described the difference in reading on a screen and from a printed page. Screen reading is for information. They foresaw a time with the reference section or travel section in bookstores disappeared. Avid booklover that I am, 99% of the words I look up are on dictionary.com. Years ago, I used to research a trip for hours in a bookstore eventually buying three or four travel books. Now I buy one overall book for the area I’m visiting and spend hours researching on the Internet. However, Allison and John said that book reading was necessary for knowledge. In their opinion, and there are studies that back this proposition, the concentration and evaluation needed to truly know a subject and build on it required reading from paper.
I’m not a Pollyanna though. People are reading books on their iPhone, and while just visualizing that gives me a headache, electronic reading is part of the future. I’ve met several people who bought the Kindle and think they would like it if only they could get it away from their kids. In part, this could be an age issue; the younger generation is more comfortable reading from electronics. Either way, e-books are here to stay.
The discussion over which reading is better is a battle booksellers need to be aware of to help direct their customers. But it doesn’t stop there, with the advent of e-publishing, there will be an avalanche of choices for readers. This is exactly where booksellers shine, taking a myriad of choices and winnowing out the best. As Bob Lewis pointed out on this blog in “The Second Renaissance-bigger, better, faster!” these are exciting times, and one of the questions is how do booksellers add value and receive compensation in the e-book world? The answer will require innovation and experimentation. What are your thoughts?
Kim Allen-Niesen is co-founder of Bookstore People, a blog that reviews independent bookstores to encourage people to visit them and shop. In addition, books and various literary topics are discussed.