I have long been a basher of electronic book readers, such as the Kindle and Nook. I believe in traditional books, and in outlets that sell and distribute books in print. Books are symbolic, and when anyone stores them on a reader, this facet disappears. I have developed this argument in a previous blog post, and you can access it by clicking here.
To that end, I was pleased to read this today (August 25, 2011) from the Harvard Business Review Online Daily Stat:
E-readers are not about to kill print books in the college environment: Very few students with e-readers use them for all of their reading, and most students with e-readers use them for one-third of their reading or less, according to a survey of 1,705 students by Nancy M. Foasberg of Queens College in New York City. Only 15.7% of respondents who said they read e-books used dedicated e-readers; the rest used computers or cell phones. 74% of respondents didn’t read e-books at all.
However, the title of the piece is misleading. It is called: “E-Readers Gain Ground Slowly in College.” I think that is true only if we start from zero. I am unimpressed by a figure of 15.7% .
There are some professors at colleges and universities who use our 15MinuteBusinessBooks.com site as a resource for their classes. To be clear, every entry we have available on that site was from a traditional, in-print book. Every book that we present at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas comes from a traditional, in-print book that we read and give away in a drawing. And, we will continue to do so. These are both services owned and operated by Creative Communication Network.
And, think about it. Do you really want an instructor in the classroom to say “please scroll to ____” instead of “please turn to page _____?”
What do you think about this?
Let’s talk about it really soon!
I have never been on board with electronic books. I am not excited about any of the devices such as Kindle, Nook, or iPads. I like a book. I like to hold it, carry it, display it, and engage in conversations about it when others see what I am reading.
I thought it was interesting in the Wall Street Journal on May 9, 2011, when Penguin Books CEO John Makinson claimed there is still a future for physical books. The article is entitled “Penguin CEO Adjusts to E-Books but Sees Room for the Old” (p. B9). The link to the full article appears below, authored by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg.
Notice that he says that physical books will always be published. “As we add value to the physical product, particularly the trade paperback and hardcover, the consumer will pay a little more for the better experience. I looked the other day into the sales of public-domain classics in 2009, when all those books were available for free. What I found was that our sales had risen by 30% that year. The reason is that we were starting to sell hardcover editions—more expensive editions—that people were prepared to pay for. There will always be a market for physical books, just as I think there will always be bookstores.”
And, even with the closing of Borders’ bookstores, he finds a strong future for such retail outlets. “There is a future in book retailing. A lot of the issue is not just that there are too many bookstores, but that they are too big. How do you diversify the offerings to consumers in order to make productive use of space without losing the experience of being in a bookstore?”
Finally, as I have stressed in other posts on this blog, there is a strong emotional link that book owners experience that goes beyond mere content. Makinson notes that “When you look at the structural competitive advantages Amazon.com has over any physical bookstore, it is overwhelming. But people will willingly pay a higher price in an independent bookshop knowing they can buy [the same book] for less down the road. That’s because consumers feel an emotional engagement with the bookstore and feel that bookstores are providing a public service as well as a commercial service. I see no evidence that independent bookstores will become obsolete.”
I am excited and energized by the fact that a leading, credible authority in the business remains in the physical book arena. While he reads manuscripts in digital devices, he reads physical books as well.
What do you think? Let’s discuss this really soon!
I found Danny Heitman’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal about e-reading very interesting. His title was “What an E-Reader Can’t Download,” published on July 23-24 (p. A-11).
In the article, he talks about the memories that are anchored as he scans the spines of the books on his living room shelf. For instance, as he sees the spine of Fishing in the Tiber by Lance Morrow, he thinks of a visit he made to Cleveland in 1991, the dinners he had there, the bookstores he visited there, and so forth. “To see the book these many years later is to think of red wine and pasta, wind and winter, good friends and good writing.”
While he acknowledges that electronic books are associated with great convenience, he also notes that the “books on my shelf help me remember that reading isn’t merely an inhalation of data. My library, and the years and places it evokes, speak of something deeper: the interplay of literature and the landscape of a life, the vivid record of a slow and winding search for wisdom, truth, the spark of pleasure or insight.”
Of course, he is right. Books are symbolic. They stand for things. They evoke passion, interest, and curiousity. When you carry them around or when you have them on your shelf, people will ask “what is that about?” or “how did you like that?” That doesn’t happen with an e-reader.
Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and other e-readers take all this out of the equation.
And that is very sad to me.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it!
An increasing number of consumers now download and read books on electronic devices, such as the popular Kindle by Amazon, the Nook from Barnes and Noble, or the iPad from Apple.
As you survey my blog posts, I have long been an opponent of these devices. I have previously argued why traditional books should be the way to go. I will not repeat those arguments here – they are readily available in our archives.
I think the “show-stopper” will be the investigation and results that come from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) of the Federal Government. This watchdog association is notorious for its detailed and long-lasting impact on products that put consumers at risk.
My prediction is that tests will continue to reveal a negative impact on consumer exposure to these devices. An increasing number of reports available on the internet now reveal questions about the effects from reading text with these devices, including eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, and short and long-term vision loss.
To be fair, there are also a number of reports that call these claims “silly,” and there are also available posts that show consumers how to adjust the backlight and contrast in order to make the exposure more suitable for the individual.
All of this is fine, but the reports have brought enough attention where we will see serious, not anecdotal investigations into the effect of these products. You can regularly see recalls of products that the CPSC has deemed unsafe. Their decisions have brought dozens of manufactured products to their knees.
Will the CPSC be bold enough to go forward to apply the standards for safety that they have long used to these electronic devices for reading? What will the scientific investigations reveal? And, regardless of the findings, will enough consumers be scared, and return to the purchase of traditional books? I believe that this will happen. One credible report, with one major recall, that is announced with enough publicity, will be enough to significantly debilitate consumer acceptance of these devices.
In the meantime, what is your own tolerance level for risk? Reports from both sides are available on the internet. Who and what do you want to believe?
Let’s talk about it really soon!
It’s been a while since we discussed this. Karl Krayer, my First Friday Book Synopsis and blogging colleague, is convinced that books will more than weather the Kindle/Nook/iPad storm. I’m not so sure.
The loss will be immense. How about this one: “what are you reading?” has always been a conversation starter, prompted when you see someone holding a dog-eared hardback or paperback. I don’t feel the same freedom to say “what are you reading” to a Kindle user. In fact, the question is usually “how do you like the Kindle?” The shift from content to delivery system is not a good one for our conversations and our intellectual development.
And, as some have already observed, we are about to lose the marketing genius behind good dust jackets. Think about the great old music album covers (do you remember the cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? It is a distant memory; and graphics are really not the same on iTunes).
This may indeed change the way “books” are “read”. But I remain convinced that there is a singular experience – of devoting time to read a writer’s sustained and crafted words of more than, say, 50,000 words – that cannot be supplanted by anything else. Maybe this solitary absorption of another’s words will become the activity of a precious few. But anyone seeking wisdom or learning over knowledge and entertainment will still look for it. And treasure it.
I hope he is right.
Sometime in the late 1980’s, my oldest son was taking piano lessons, and we stood in line for about two hours to meet Van Cliburn. He was signing autographs on one of his record album covers.
(Note to young readers: in the old days, we bought record albums — big flat disks that were played on a turntable with a needle. And by the way, the needle fit in the grooves of the record, and at some point, some person described listening to such a record as “groovy.” I know, it sounds so primitive).
Van Cliburn was appearing for this rare opportunity at a — record store — on Mockingbird near SMU here in Dallas. I think its where the La Madeleine is now. Though it carried all kinds of music, this particular record store was especially known for its comprehensive selection of classical music. We did meet Van Cliburn. He was gracious, encouraged my son to keep practicing, and we left with a wonderful memory.
During that same era, when I wanted to buy (and browse for) books, I went to a wonderful bookstore called Taylors, situated on the outer parking lot of Northpark mall.
Today, the record store is gone. In fact, practically every record store is gone. In fact, I do not know of a record store in Dallas anymore. Taylors bookstore? Gone.
So yesterday, in Barnes & Noble, I asked the young sales clerk at the Nook counter whether he thinks the Nook (and/or the Kindle and the Apple Tablet) posed a threat to the bookstore that sells the Nook. It was an interesting conversation. I told him about the record store/Van Cliburn story. (He would have been about 4 years old when I met Van Cliburn).
I wonder — if you had asked the people in that record store on the day that Van Cliburn signed autographs if they could conceive of a technological advancement that would threaten the very existence of record stores, would anyone had said “yes, I see the threat…?”
And where will the Van Cliburns’s of the future sign their autographs for young boys taking piano lessons?