Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Darrell James

Earlier this month, yet another independent bookseller, The Mystery Bookstore announced its closing. So sad. Located in trendy Westwood, California, a mere block off the UCLA campus, this fabulous stalwart of the printed book has served the mystery reading community for the past 23 years, and has hosted virtually every mystery author, big name or small.

Robert Crais at The Mystery Bookstore (Wow!)
One of the last signings there.

On nearly the same day, the major book chain Barnes and Nobles announced record fourth quarter sales. How can this dichotomy exist?

Well, it seems the source of B&N’s bragging rights came not from book sales in its stores, but from the on-line sales of eBooks for electronic readers. On Christmas day alone, the chain reported that their computers had crashed as a result of being clogged with orders for eBooks for its latest reader, the color Nook. Another statistic said that more than half of all “best seller” sales were eBooks.

In the words of the song artist and poet, Bob Dylan “… the times they are a’changin’.”

For authors, it seems to ring the death knell for printed books. Yet the reality of it is that more books than ever are actually being sold. Just not in the form we’ve come to love.

I’ve come to the eBook revolution kicking and screaming. I love books. Real books. My shelves are crammed with them. My nightstand is stacked with them. I love the look and feel of them. Having spent time in the printing industry, I even love the smell of them—that heady ink-on-paper aroma.(I know you know what I mean.)

I’ve recited all my objections to owning a reader, be it Kindle, Nook, or iPad… “I don’t like reading off a screen.” OR “What happens when the battery goes dead?”

The response from the progressive minded people who already have one or more of these devises, sounds something like: “Yes, but you can’t tuck your book into a purse or pocket. You can have it with you anytime, over lunch, in line at the bank.” AND, “When you go on vacation you can carry dozens… no!… hundreds of books with you. Think about the size of the suitcase you’d need to do that. Huh? Huh? Have you thought about that?”

Okay, I have imagined trying to fit a shipping container full of books into the overhead compartment on an airplane.

The change, though, has left me feeling maybe a bit the way the scribes of old must have felt when Guttenberg first introduced movable type, making their beautifully crafted calligraphy-styled books obsolete.

The truth is, when I listen to the arguments, my objections seem rather lame. Technology has proven itself valuable to the consumer (again). People buy them because they like them. It’s progress.

I envision a day when brick-and-mortar bookstores will mostly be a thing of the past. Possibly a few will exist to service collectors and hippy-holdouts like me—those who still store their music on vinyl record albums, proclaiming… “It sounds better.”

It doesn’t sound better; it just sounds familiar.

For authors promoting their works, perhaps the rest of Dylan's lyrics apply:

“Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown. And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. For the times…”

You know the rest.

I now have plans for a Nook, Kindle, whatever… “Uncle! I give.”

Still, my heart cries, “It’s not a book, unless its printed.”

Where do you stand on the debate? Have you gone to the darkside of eReadership. Or are you clinging stubbornly to tradition?... Join in. Let’s call it our official poll.


Diana said...

I love the e-book movement, although I still prefer a real printed book in hand or on audio in my ipod.
What bothers me about any "new craze" is the number of writers who look at it as a vehicle that will legitimize their self-published work (thanks alot Konrath.)
I hope that writers will do the work it takes to create a product that a publisher will back.

Vicki Doudera said...

My mother wanted to get me a Kindle for Christmas but I convinced her a needed a new parka instead.

Like Diana, I'm fine with anything that keeps readers reading. Personally I don't crave any more "screen time," I'd rather hold a physical book, magazine, or newspaper when I get the rare chance to read.

Lisa Bork said...

Haven't gone over to the darkside yet, Darrell. My eighty-four-year old dad has, though.

Joel said...

I read both ebooks and printed books, but when I travel I always take the ebook reader for convenience. As an author I absolutely want to stick with the printed book, have my completed work to hold. As a reader, ebooks work for me. Although, I don't know if others have this problem or if my wife and I are just misfits, but between us we've already lost two Kindles!

Alan Orloff said...

I have my feet firmly planted in the limbo between the two worlds. I prefer printed books, but I recently got a Kindle. But I haven't read much on it yet. But I'm sure I will. Sometime. Maybe.

Julie Compton said...

Like the others, I prefer printed books, but I have had a Kindle for several years and I use it quite often. It's great for when someone recommends a book, because I can simply download it right then before I forget. But I've found it's not so handy for the books I read in my book club. The page numbers don't coincide with the page numbers in the printed version, so it's hard to get back to certain passages in the middle of a discussion. I'm sure these problems will get solved as the technology improves, but for now, I prefer to buy the printed versions for book club books.

The whole fact of printed books going the way of the dinosaur makes me sad, but if you can't beat'em . . .

Deborah Sharp said...

I don't want one more e-gadget cluttering up my house, honestly. Count me firmly in the dinosaur column when it comes to e-readers.
Maybe if I weren't writing, and had the time to read like I used to, DEVOURING books by the dozens, I'd prefer the e-reader's portablity. But, for now, No.
As for what it means to us and publishing ... who the heck knows? We'll have to see how it all shakes out.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

As my boss reminded me recently with a sad shake of his head, book stores are going the way of record and music stores. Most music is now downloaded off the internet. Books will soon be the same way.

I have a foot in both camps. I love books and just purchased a boat load. But I've recently taken to reading books on the Kindle app on my iPhone, and love that, too. The convenice of whipping out my phone and reading anywhere, anytime can't be beat. And, no, I don't find the screen too small.

Kate Thornton said...

I love my Kindle. I have read 23 books on it since I got it last October. It is a wonderful device for me (I am one-handed & have difficulty turning pages of printed books)And although my own recent book first came out in trade paper, I was delighted when the Kindle, NOOK & other eReader editions became available.

Keith Raffel said...

I don't care whether books are read in hard copy or on an electronic device. What I do care about is that authors get paid for their work!


P.S. I too am in mourning over the fate of the Mystery Bookstore.

Terri Bischoff said...

I flatly refused the idea of getting an ereader pretty much since they were introduced. To me, there is absolutely no replacement for the serenity I find in spending a couple hours in a mystery bookstore.

BUT... I am starting to look into ereaders. Not for reading ebooks - but for the ability to carry and edit manuscripts. I can't tell you how annoying it is to carry 300 plus page manuscripts back and forth from work and home. Ereaders, like the ipad, are becoming much more than just ereaders - they are becoming the new laptop.

Mark said...

I don't feel like I really own something I bought electronically. Heck, I stopped by a store last night to buy CDs instead of getting the digital copy.

Also, I don't want to get an ereader that one works with one company.

I might cave eventually, but, unlike Blu-Ray where I jumped in early, I will probably come to the game very late.

Mark Troy said...

Books are so much more attractive than iPads or Kindles. Each one is unique, has a different heft, feel and smell. I worry about cracking the spine, spilling things on them, tearing the covers or bending the corners.

Nevertheless, I bought an iPad when they were introduced and followed with an iPad for my wife for Christmas. Why? because I read more and enjoy it more on the iPad.

The genius of Kindles, Nooks and iPads is the instant connection to a bookstore. I've bought more books since April than in the previous two years.

I have always loved browsing in a bookstore, but now I spend more time browsing online. I can browse whenever I want to and for as long as I want. I can browse not only in modern stores such as B&N, but in antiquarian bookstores where I find books that have been long out of print, most of which I didn't know existed.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I like to read real books. I also find browsing in a real bookstore much more fun than browsing online. I have a Kindle, but so far haven't used it much.

GBPool said...

Since we can't un-ring that bell, I will buy e-books, hardcover books and paperback books. I want the author to get something out of it, both money and notoriety. Maybe bookstores will turn into Antique Stores carrying only first editions, classics, or picture books that have to be sold in brick and mortar stores.

I worked at Walden Books years ago and one of the young executives from back east said they were looking into only carry the top 100 books - period. That's scary. He saw it as a cold business and not as a magnet for bringing in customers who love (and buy) lots of books, not just the best sellers.

But most of all, I want authors to be read no matter the format. And a word to publishers: If prices were cheaper, I would buy more books.

G.M. Malliet said...

I can read books on my i-Pad and my phone but I find I have no desire to. Maybe if I'm trapped in a doctor's office with nothing to read but Women's Health or some such. Maybe then. But I love books. That's not going to change. Never never never.

Jessie Chandler said...

It's a long and sordid path the book is traveling. I still work part time in a Borders Bookstore, and I do see a slight shift in the way people are purchasing books. However, at least to some degree, I still feel like there will be a place for the print book...

However, I, too, have to cop to loving the Kindle on iPhone, ...I do love having the ability to whip that puppy out when I'm waiting for someone, usually my partner who's perpetually a half hour behind life, standing in the grocery store line, at the docs office...

Beth Groundwater said...

All I can say is that I chose Midnight Ink as my publisher because they publish books in both trade paperback and e-book formats. I saw the writing on the wall when e-book sales started their astronomical climb (% wise) over a year ago.

Lois Winston said...

There are pros and cons to this issue. I'm planning to buy an iPad when version 2 comes out in the spring. I've played with the iPad at the Apple store and am in lust. I'm only waiting because I think the new version will have upgrades I'd like to have. I don't want a Kindle or Nook because I want something that does more and will interface with my desktop and phone.

Will I stop buying books and only buy ebooks? Doubtful. But I like having an option.

There are two major downsides I see to the ebook revolution -- the glut of self-published crap that readers will have to wade through at ebookstores and the piracy problem.

Also, Diana mentioned how she prefers a real book or audiobook, but I remember a time when people feared that audiobooks would herald the demise of the printed book. I think we'll always have printed books. I just hope we'll still have brick and mortar bookstores 5 or 10 years from now.

T.S. Richardson said...

I'm saddened by the Mystery Book Store's closing/passing. I don't own an e-reader, but I'm sure I will at some point soon. The versatility of an e-reader and what they capable of doing is amazing: holding it with one hand, enlarging or decrease text, placing it on a table to read, holding multiple novels, making notes, etc. The stories are customizable to the reader's reading preferences. This is huge. It is probably the best thing for the publishing industry considering most future readers will have ADD.

Like Gayle mentioned, I believe $30 hard covers kill the ability to recruit new readers. It better be a damn good book for the casual reader or the next $30 entertainment investment is going to movies and popcorn. Since the overhead costs are lessened with a digital format, prices should remain lower and hopefully more readers will emerge.

Most of my CDs are in a closet since I converted them to MP3s a few years ago. Will the same happen to the books on my bookshelf? I hope not. I love having them around, but when I move I always shed a box or two of them. They are always replaced by new titles in the next location, but in the future will I? I'm not sure.

I feel digital is inevitable so I'm accepting it (and the losses of bookstores and the wise employees are painful), but print will be available in some form or another. Perhaps print on demand or for the top tier authors only. What is important is that publishing will continue for future readers. Thumbing through pages will be replaced by scrolling or another term. Hopefully there will be strong book reviewers/recommenders who can point nascent readers to the books that best fit their needs.

Darrell James said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments. Whichever side of the eBook revolution you're on, it seems we all share one thing in common: we all love to read.

I hope "readership" never dies.