The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

October 24, 2009

E-books bring ease but lose familiar thrill


I don't care what anybody says; when I read a book I want to hold cardboard and paper, and turn pages. I want to use a bookmark and lay the book on the table when I take a break.

When I finish reading it, I want to find a place in, or return it to, its rightful place on my library shelves.

But, I know, I'm old-fashioned and not quite with it if I can't handle computer or hand-held electronic screens, and get used to a scroll bar for moving to the page.

E-books.

The book-publishing business has been hurting in recent years, but the electronic-book phenomenon is providing a light at the end of some bleak times.

Publishers and observers have been wondering for years if people would actually read books on an electronic screen once the books were digitized. And now that so many books are available through numerous Internet sites, the answer to their musings no doubt will come soon.

Apparently, there's even more to books vs. computer screens than taste, preference and convenience. The New York Times published a forum last week about whether our brains were equipped to read e-books.

Well, we all know our brains can adjust to a lot of changes in habit, so I'm not sure that issue will hold back the trend to e-books that is going to get more and more intensive in the coming years.

According to the Association of American Publishers, only about 2 percent of book sales during the first half of this year were for e-books.

But that figure represents major growth in the market. The dollar sales amount jumped from $30 million during the first six months of 2008 to $81.5 million in the same period this year.

That's a whopping increase of 173 percent. And much of that has to do with mobility and convenience.

Sellers and technology companies realize that most people are going to sit at their computers and read books, so firms such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony have come up with portable readers that are easy to hold and take with you, just as if they were books.

Most have a six-inch screen, can store hundreds of books and download books wirelessly.

Consumer researchers say about 3 million e-book readers will be purchased this year. And that's a lot of traditional books that won't be bought.

On the other hand, many of those purchasers will be reading more than they were previously. And that's got depressed publishers excited.

I've had a link in my bookmarks for years to an online books site. Once in a while, I would browse the titles or authors on my laptop and if some works catch my attention, maybe I'd call them up.

I might read a page or two and move on to something else, just as if I were loitering in the aisles of a bookstore _ one of my favorite pastimes.

But it isn't like being in a bookstore at all. You're home. There's no dust or discolored pages on used e-books.

The chance for the thrill of spotting, in a musty old bookcase, an author or title you'd been seeking for months or years is absent.

Yeah, I might spot a sought-after author on an e-book Internet site. But then what? Print out the pages, bind them together and stuff them into a bookcase after I read them? No.

Apparently, gender has become an important factor in reading habits. Even before the advent of e-books, women by far were buying more books. Just last year, men bought only about 30 percent of all purchased books.

With e-books, however, men are being lured back to the page, though it might be electronic. Men accounted for 55 percent of e-book purchases last year, and that trend is continuing this year.

I admit I haven't tried reading a book with an Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader.

But based on my laptop experience, I'm one of the people whose brains they should be checking to see if can adjust _ because I can't imagine it.

The Book Industry Study Group has launched a census-based survey of consumer attitudes toward buying and reading e-books and other forms of digital content. I'm sure they'd find I'm in a small minority of old-timers.

Admittedly, I'm a dinosaur when it comes to books and reading. But as we all know, the dinosaurs are gone and so, too, someday will the book traditionalists like me who have to hold a real-live book and be surrounded by a home full of bookcases.

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Cary Brunswick, a former managing editor of The Daily Star, is a freelance writer and editor, and editor of oneontatoday.com. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net.