The Best of Both Worlds

booksebooks Development is a natural part of any civilization, but I think most people accept that the past few decades have blown the other millenia out of the water.  I swear, I blink and my cell phone grows another set of eyes.

However, I’m also hearing observations about trends in reverse – call it part of the back-to-basics movement.  I think it’s already in full force with our overt concern for the environment.  Line-drying, not drying machines; cooking at home vs. eating at Applebee’s; stay-cations vs. vacations.  And it crosses over into family values and education – I’m hearing a lot of calls for tough love, rather than cosseting.  (And in the meantime, our grandparents slap their foreheads and think, “Duh.”)  The recession undoubtedly played a big part; history shows that generally, in tough times, people get nostalgic and want to do what their gramps did, politically, socially, and economically.

And culturally, what did gramps do?  Well, for one thing, he listened to the radio, and if he could afford it, he listened to LPs.  A decade ago, CDs were in, cassettes were out, and LPs were absolutely dead.  Now the music aficionados are pumping their fists in the air, because LPs are Cool with a capital C.  They’re no longer relegated to secondhand and niche music stores – HMV, the biggest Canadian music chain store, carries a significant section of LPs, and artists like Radiohead and Coldplay release new albums on those crazy 33 ½” vinyls.

Yeah, iTunes is taking over the world.  Yeah, it took thirty years for LPs to come back.  However, they came back.  Whether this is a lasting niche or a passing fad, I haven’t the foggiest.  But clearly, there’s a sizable minority looking for old-school quality in their goods these days.  Call them what you will – geeks, snobs, over-privileged under-extended yuppies – but someone wants them.  And someone’s buying them.

Which brings me to the real topic of the day.  Even if you haven’t been online in a year, you’d have to know that the book industry is changing at a rate even insiders can’t believe.  Independent bookstores are fighting for survival.  Borders is on the verge of collapse.  Big chain bookstores diversify through non-book items, like children’s toys and gifts.  And, of course, we must hail the titanic rise of the mighty electronic book, or die.  (And no, I don’t think that’s hyperbole.  Much.)

Naturally, it would be lovely if the analog and digital could co-exist peacefully.  I love the convenience of the eBook and my Nook Color, but my heart lies in paper.   And although the pressure mounts inexorably against paper books, I think they’ll be around for a while yet.  The need is still great, on multiple levels, for libraries and print books in schools, not to mention in under-privileged areas.  As for physical bookstores, well, I work at one, and I am astounded and heartened at the number of people who still shop and browse at the bookstore.

Customers like hearing my accent (“Is it South African?  Australian?  Are you English?”)  They like it when cashiers don’t just ring up their books, and we take an interest in their purchases, discussing it with them.  They especially like it when we go out of our way to help them find a book, and recommend similar ones.  And yup: My “Let’s Talk Romance” badge is pinned front and centre.  Maybe I work at an exceptional branch of Chapters/Indigo, but I’ve found that there is a place for both the breadth and depth of the online community, as well as for face-to-face, human interaction.  You can’t substitute the one for the other.  Frankly, I think we’ve got the best of both worlds right now.

I can’t see the stand-off lasting much longer.  Unlike cassette tapes and VHS, which I so do not miss, I believe the world would be a poorer place without print books and brick bookstores.  Hopefully, books will never get to the point of near-extinction, as with vinyl records.  But even so, I draw hope from seeing those gallant LPs resurrected, in part by a confluence of socio-economic shifts, but mostly because people cared.

Do you think print books will ever disappear?  If they did, would you regret their absence?  And do you think they would ever come back?

- Jean AAR

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17 Responses to The Best of Both Worlds

  1. chris booklover says:

    “I’ve found that there is a place for both the breadth and depth of the online community, as well as for face-to-face, human interaction.You can’t substitute the one for the other.Frankly, I think we’ve got the best of both worlds right now.”

    E-books, and online resources generally, are great. Now we can get information about new books or existing series far more easily than was previously the case, and of course the advantages of e-books for reading purposes have been well documented. On the other hand, I would really, really hate it if bookstores and the printed book were to disappear. There are few things that I enjoy more than browsing, especially because I’m an inveterate cheater. I often like to sample the endings of novels before deciding whether to read them.

    I’m not very optimistic about the coexistence of printed and e-books. The big stores that carry new books will exist for the foreseeable future, but I’m disturbed about the rapid disappearance of secondhand bookstores. I was in New York a few months ago, and in the nation’s largest city there were very few used bookstores – and none of them had a romance section of any consequence. There are some excellent ones where I live, but they are not, on the whole, doing great business. I don’t know how much longer they will survive.

  2. Victoria S says:

    Jean, I for one pray printed books never leave us. The thrill of holding a print book in your hands, the whisper of the page as it turns,the particular smell of paper , the mellow color of paper as it ages and yellows. The joy of tracking down that elusive first edition you need for your collection of first editions by your favorite author. This is something that can only be done with a paper book. Like chris booklover, I too deplore the seeming demise of the UBS. WHODUNIT on 19Th Street in Philly was where I tracked down some of my most precious and now valuable 1st and 2ND editions of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books. The joy of getting to know the people who work in your favorite bookstore or UBS, and in the case of collectors, the joy of getting the call that tells you the book you have been hunting for YEARS is available AND in your price range, Priceless! Just think of it, some day when I am long gone, and my heirs have sold off all the books that “crazy old Aunt Vickey” collected, some collector in the distant future will be browsing a UBS and discover that J.D. Robb, Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Lisa Kleypas in first edition that they have been longing for, and their collection will be a little more complete. I love my e-book,but you can’t do that with a Kindle.

  3. Leigh says:

    You and your store sound like you give great customer service. Yesterday, a day after the release date of a new book I went to our regional book store looking for the book. I had my elderly father in the car with me but I told him this will only take a minute. First I look in the romance section – not there. Then I start looking at the six different shelves and tables for new releases- not there. Then I start looking for a sales clerk. Finally finding someone to help me he looks it up in the computer and then looks everywhere I did. I notice a cart with unshelved books and he goes to the back to look. Meanwhile my father waits in the car.

    I don’t think that books will disappear but for convenience nothing beats e-books. If I hadn’t had a unused gift certificate and if the book had been less than the actual gift I wouldn’t have bothered going to the store.
    Please forgive typos – on my telephone

  4. bungluna says:

    I for one love my on-line community where I get news about my favorite authors. I used to have a friendly relationship with my bookstore clerks, but the Borders is gone and the people at my B&N change over so much that I can’t get to know them.

    I have to lament the fact that lately I’ve heard about several books I’d like to read, only to find out they’re only offered in e-format. Since I do the bulk of my reading from libraries or from booksfree (on-line subscribtion library), I refruse to buy a reader until such services are readily available in my area. I know I’m missing out on posible auto-buy authors, but the budget just won’t stretch.

    As for books, I will ALWAYS buy my favorite books on print. A gadget will conck out on you, but a paper book, well taken care of, is forever. (Or at least for my lifetime!)

  5. Claire says:

    Jean, I would love to run into someone like you in a bookstore. :) I’ve never been able to talk romance novels with people who work there unless its to find one. No one has ever said, “I loved that Mary Balogh and I hope you will too” as I purchased it.

    I saw some albums just the other day and I think it was at Target and it was the coolest thing! I just wonder.. did a lot of people hang onto their record players? I see them at Goodwill when I go hunting for bargains. Also, every now and then, they’ll be a huge amount of albums someone has said adieu to. I think sometimes about making a wall of framed album covers.

    I don’t see how schools will get away from printed books and if they do, I hope its after my kids have gotten through most of it. Holding a book is a tactile experience and a lot of kids need that imo.

  6. AAR Sandy says:

    I think the only thing “better” about vinyl records is album art — and I think that’s the real appeal, because the sound quality is a small fraction of the richness of CDs. I lived through the album era and I remember scratches and stereos that skipped and how beloved records actually decreased in quality the more you played them. I think it’s sentiment and album art driving the boom. And, yes, I do think it’s just a fad that will disappear as soon as people who remember albums do.

    I will always remember the pleasurable hours I spent browsing book stores. But, quite honestly, as soon as I got online and started to become familiar with release dates, the dissatisfaction began. Borders did a horrible job — truly horrible — of getting books out anywhere even remotely close to release dates. Trips to the bookstore became exercises in frustration rather than the pleasurable experience I was used to. In short, consumer awareness of release dates is just one of the ways they didn’t adapt to changing times and thereby put the nail in their own coffin.

    I think print will continue, never fear. But I do hope that publishers will stop viewing print as the Holy Grail and stop treating eBooks like the unwanted stepchild.

    On one of my last trips to the Borders in my neighborhood that closed I found a woman browsing the Mary Balogh books that were then 20% off. I asked her if she’d read Balogh before and she said she hadn’t. I pulled out Slightly Dangerous and told her that was the book to read. She took my suggestion and went off to buy it. That felt good.

  7. Leigh says:

    It is like a continuation of You Got Mail (the movie).Some places you go have the personalized service with knowledgable sales assistant but large impersonal store are easy to quit and move on to ordering on line and e books especially with gas prices as high as they are now.
    If I had personalized service it wouldn’t be so easy to quit a store.

  8. Carrie says:

    I love bookstores. Period. I don’t even care if the sales people are good or whether or not the latest releases are front-and-center at 9 a.m. on day of release. I just love bookstores. Even when my husband and I were dating, bookstores were the most likely place to find us. The same is still true 28 years later. We can’t resist stopping into any place that sells books, new, used, childrens, cookbooks, it doesn’t matter. I love to *browse* books. I like handling them and reading the covers and flipping through and reading excerpts. As much as I benefit from the information I get from online communities, nothing beats handling a book before buying.

    We have two ereaders and enjoy the convenience, but prefer print books. I like being able to go back and forward in them, skimming and finding places I need to reread, or to clarify something. I enjoy picking up books I’ve read and opening to favorite passages or just randomly reading/skimming. It’s like visiting an old friend. And it’s like seeing an old friend to see them on the shelves. I lose that visual comfort with the Kindle book. ;-)

    I don’t know how long print books will be around, although I think it will be for a long time yet. Eventually, though, I think they’ll be phased out for practical reasons. Here’s to hoping that’s decades away.

  9. maggie b. says:

    A good bookstore is a gift, isn’t it? We have a local UBS that I love. Helpful staff, lots of selection, great prices. I still miss my little Waldenbooks, gone two years now. They actually knew my voice when I called. It was like talking to a close friend.

    More than just the service I love to look – often I find books I knew nothing about by a trip through the bookstore. While I learn about a lot of books on line I also pick up books through browsing. That is how I found my last years favorites Sarah Sundin’s WWII romances. I also found a recent YA buy just by shopping at Walmart – I had a gift card, they had an interesting looking book I had heard nothing about and voila! – “Wither” comes home with me and I really liked it.

    I also love the convenient carelessness of a book. Unlike my kindle, most of my books cost under $10.00. If I drop them or forget them, no harm done. And of course nothing beats the joy of being able to hand a book to a friend and say “I just finished this. You’ve got to read it.” Verbal recommends have a lot less impact.

    I hope books are around for a long, long time.

    maggie b.

  10. Susan/DC says:

    maggie b’s comments come closest to my own and express why I hope that both digital and physical books happily co-exist. Nothing beats the Internet when I know what I want, but nothing beats bricks and mortar when I’m just browsing. I always talk about how I discovered Julia Quinn when I was in the store looking for books by Amanda Quick. Physical propinquity led me to a new author. Admittedly, Quinn is a big name and often mentioned online so I probably would have found her at some point, but there are other, lesser known authors whose books I’ve found in the same way. Serendipity is harder to come by online (Amazon’s “if you liked” suggestions hardly ever work for me). I used to love spending a quiet hour or two in my local Borders on a Sunday afternoon, browsing the shelves, looking at covers and back copy, and reading a few chapters. I’ve bought significantly fewer books since that Borders closed.

  11. Jean Wan says:

    Re decline of UBS – I’m surprised that it’s happening. I would think people would prefer to spend a fraction of the price on used books than on a new one. Then again, they might spend the same money, and get a new one that lasts forever, electronically.

    I’m not such a bibliophile that I collect and crave first editions; I read for pleasure, and I like the physical feel of it, but I’m nowhere near the bibliophiles in, say, that book by Arturo Perez-Reverte (maybe the first Alatriste book?).

    If my NookColor died tomorrow, I’d be sad, and a bit peeved that I’ll have to return and exchange it, but I’ll still have the books. And I realize that my attitude is more or less the same with books – I’ve gone through four copies of Robin McKinley’s “The Blue Sword”, and all the old ones have been donated, because the content is what matters, not the cover.

    EBook = convenience and speed. Bookstore = atmosphere. That’s a draconian way to put it, but it’s more or less how I see it. Like I said: best of both worlds.

    And for what it’s worth, there are still kids coming in with those Scholastic order forms, and asking if Chapters has them. So they’re still buying books. I love working at the bookstore, mostly because I can approach it from a consumer’s point of view, and try and avoid doing things that caused ME frustration, a gazillion times over.

  12. xina says:

    No, I don’t think print will disappear…at least not for a very long time. Even though, I read on my ipad and really love it, I still buy paper on occasion and still have many of my favorites in paper. One of our favorite weekend outings is to go to all our favorite bookstores…used and new, then go to dinner. These stores always have people browsing and buying. I just don’t think that everyone is on board the digital bandwagon. I really do think it will take many years for it to come to that.

  13. Diane says:

    I hope they don’t disappear, I love holding my books. But for commodity’s sake I can see the reason to have an e-reader.

  14. Beth says:

    I love a good bookstore. New, used, whatever. I can walk in and do a quick walk through and I know if I have hit pay dirt. The two UBS in my town are not doing as much business. That could be due to me as I am a book whore and don’t trade books back. I can’t let them go. Fortunately my daughter has just moved to Charleston and there are tons to explore. My last trip I came back with two bags! Now that it is almost summer I can hop in my car drive 2 hrs. and see my daughter, get some books and go to the beach! Heaven!

  15. Jean Wan says:

    I definitely still love the UBS. One of the highlights of my recent trip to Phoenix was the discovery of a huge store called Half-Price Books. The books were indeed, half the price, but there were cheaper ones too.

    I’ve also been realizing, as I further explore my Nook and eReading, that browsing is big advantage that paper has over digital. I wanted to reread a good passage in Joan Wolf’s “The American Duchess” (which is much more freely available thanks to digitization), but what do I have to do? Scroll. Scroll scroll scroll flip flip flip. I can’t just do the zip-and-skim that you can with paper.


  16. Anne says:

    I have to admit that even though I am a staunch supporter of printing books my husband gave me a kindle at Christmas – a lovely thank you present for our second child I’m afraid I have gone over to the ‘dark side’.

    The convenience of having only to press a button as oppose to turning the pages is a definite plus for me. To the addition of being to able to browse online is also a bonus. Needless to say the advantages are endless but I do secretly miss being able to read the ending which often determines whether I continue reading the book and nothing can replace the fresh smell of a newly printed paperback.

    Although I am sadden by the recent and rapid decline of printing books with the emergence of ebook. Considering they’re often free, half the price of paperbooks and often released much earlier than paperbacks it isn’t any wonder they’re now the preferred medium for most readers.

    The best part is that I can organise and catalogue all my favourite ebook in my kindle. The only and biggest downside is that I never can be stranded on a desert island with kindle :)

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