Dave Smith: The death of books has been greatly exaggerated [Updated]


From DAVE SMITH
Bookseller
Ukiah

Letter to the Editors:

The death of books and libraries has been greatly exaggerated (Tom Hine, Ukiah Daily Journal, 9/18/11 – See below), just as the death of radio was proclaimed many years ago. “Books and libraries are evolving” would be the correct assesment in my opinion.

What I’m learning from my customers is that some people, mainly younger, are indeed moving completely into personal technology for their book reading; some, mainly older, will have nothing to do with reading books on a computer screen; but most book readers still love having physical books in their hands to read, and to pass around, while they also may use technology sometimes when they travel.

I think that will be the norm for awhile yet, and then, as Peak Oil starts pushing energy prices into the stratosphere, and our energy infrastructure crumbles, as it is already beginning to do, then all bets are off. How affordable will eBooks be then, or even available? Will real books be used as barter currency? Will there be armed guards at the library and Mendocino Book Company to prevent looting? Hmmm. You may want to hang on to those books taking up space in your house for awhile yet, Tom. A local farmer may be quite willing to trade some organic potatoes and kale for your dog-eared copy of War and Peace, when times get really tough and your Kindle is gathering dust in the closet.
~

[Update] Assignment Ukiah: Rise of the Kindle, the end of books
Tom Hine

I bought two Kindles in the past month. This is bad news for everybody in the world of book publishing because if I’m starting to make the transition everybody is.

Kindles are new electronic gizmos that I won’t even try to explain, other than that just about every book in the known world is available on one, the vast majority for free. Half my family members now have Kindles and they love them. That’s more bad news for books.

If I ran Random House Publishing I’d try merging with Proctor & Gamble. If I was Ann Kilkenny at the Mendocino Book Company I’d start stocking the shelves with potato chips and 12-packs of Budweiser. If I ran the county library I’d start making calls to see if there were any openings on a road crew.

Books are in trouble. I’m the canary in the coal mine and I just fell flat on my back. My wife reads two or three books a week; she reads murder mysteries faster than the industry prints them. We have books on every horizontal surface of the house, plus boxes and boxes of books up in the rafters in the garage. We spend more on books in any given year than we do in car payments and cable TV service put together.

Oops. Did I say we “spend” more money …?

Sorry.

That should have been “spent” more money. Our book-buying days are coming to an end, you see. So are yours, but you might not know it yet.

Teri recently went to Europe for a few weeks and instead of toting along 40 used paperbacks, all she took was one thin Kindle loaded with several thousand titles. And yeah, I’ll bet she missed those old books with their familiar tactile sensations, the lovely aroma of ink and musty paper creating the evocative fragrance she’s spent a lifetime experiencing, the pages unfolding as she immersed herself in the magical realm of reading.

I’m sure she missed out on all those charming sensory delights. But I’m also sure she got over it by about page six of the first “book” she read on Kindle. She loves her new electric book replacement unit. So does my son. He’s already adapted to the new reading format and can hardly remember what it was like when he didn’t have one. Sort of the way you feel about yellow sticky notes and sushi.

The rise of Kindle and similar devices coincides with the ongoing collapse of the big box book stores. Borders Books is gone, Barnes & Noble is down with a chilled, sweaty fever. They’ll be revived and in good health around the same time drive-in movies, cassette tapes, and the local pear industry are revived.

Inevitably we come to the question of what all this means for libraries across the country and right here in Mendocino County. At the moment the usual batch of big-hearted progressives around the county want you to Vote Yes on a tax increase that will provide an eighth-cent increase to the library from now until (a) Borders Books returns or (b) forever, whichever comes first.

Why should we guarantee funding for the library from now until the end of time when none of us think the library system will endure? No one would possibly tell you the future of libraries is bright except maybe a librarian, and that’s only because her paycheck depends on it.

Do you think that libraries are going to be more like Borders Books in five years or more like Amazon Books? Well, there’s your answer. There is absolutely no reason to be writing a huge check to local libraries every year when the book publishers themselves are out of business and the only things libraries have on their shelves are potato chips and 12-packs of Budweiser.

Anyone who would be willing to bet libraries will still be up and running 10 years from now is a fool. Anyone betting that their grandchildren are going to be happy to continue to pay massive annual fees so libraries can continue to pretend to be doing something functional and necessary in 2025 shouldn’t be trusted with their grandchildren’s inheritance.

Before we all pledge an endless stream of money to this dinosaur business called The Library, we should take some minimal precautions that the business will still be around when we aren’t. And I’m pretty darn sure libraries won’t.

TWK reminds you that the same familiar mob of locals who have never met a tax increase they didn’t embrace and fall in love with are the ones pushing the new library tax. But remember: They love taxes. They name their children after their favorite taxes. Tom Hine just lives in Ukiah and doesn’t want to get involved.
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