As a fanatic of independent bookstores (my current favorite is The Sun Piper in Winter Park, CO), and as a frequent visitor to Barnes & Noble, I never thought that I would fall in love with electronic books–but I have. Last week, I downloaded an obscure title to my husband’s Kindle. Even though the novel I chose was mediocre, I fell in love with the device.
The Kindle “feels” like a book or slate, and I can physically take it with me. Thanks to a really good bath-bar-caddy, I can even read it while in the tub. As with all books, I did dry my hands before “flipping” the page. The biggest differences between the Kindle and physical books are that the Kindle weighs less that a hardback, it can hold multiple books, and instead of toting my hated reading glasses (which constantly remind me that I am no longer an eagle-eyed pilot), I can surreptitiously increase the font size until I can easily read any book. The Kindle allows its reader to highlight text and to write comments attached to the text. The only think I missed was being able to easily flip back and forth to the Table of Contents.
Unfortunately, e-books are one more threat to the physical bookstore, as well as to the quality of writing and editing. While companies such as Amazon.com have made it practical to “browse” an electronic book before purchasing it, Amazon does not provide the joy of discovering a gem of a book that you never would have considered except that it caught your eye in a bookstore. Just because almost anyone can publish an e-book, doesn’t mean anyone should. The electronic novel I downloaded was full of typos. The book my husband downloaded, a best-seller published by Random House, appears to be error-free. Random House would never publish the novel I downloaded; probably due to its inferior writing more than its Christian topic.
Can the electronic book market sustain booksellers, authors, agents, publishers, and editors? Not at 99 cent-per-download prices. This concerns me, because I enjoy quality books that authors have toiled over, agents and publishers have selected as being the best of the best, and editors have polished.
Some movements are afoot to protect physical bookstores from the onslaught of electronic books. Some textbook stores are experimenting with Publish-on-Demand (POD) machines. Barnes & Noble is happy to sell its customers an e-book, along with a proprietary reader device. I foresee the day when the independent bookstore might look like an old-fashioned video store; its shelves will stock one copy of the book to attract buyers with its cover, but the actual purchase will be of an electronic version.
Many large publishers are trying to keep the profit in e-books by implementing a controversial sales procedure called the “Agency Model.” Publishers Weekly concisely explains the Agency Model in their Feb 28 article, “Random House Switches to Agency Model For E-book Sales“:
In the agency model, publishers set the price and designate an agent—in this case the bookseller—who will sell the book and receive the 30% commission. Adopting the model for e-books tends to mean e-book prices will rise, something both publishers and independent retailers applaud. Publishers believe low e-book prices devalue their books and cannibalize hardcover sales. Under the agency model once a price has been set it cannot be changed or discounted by the retailer and independent e-book retailers believe the higher prices of the agency model allow them to compete with big e-book vendors.
I hope the Agency Model works, because I love well-published books, physical bookstores, AND my (husband’s) Kindle.