The Rise of the eReader (and What It Means for Traditional Bookstores)

I want to tell you up front that I am not a technophobe. I’m a digital photographer, a videographer, a graphic designer, and frankly ahead of the curve on pretty much every element of Office you could ever want to use. I love FinalDraft and Timeline and even have a working knowledge of html and Dreamweaver CS5. So it might be surprising that I cannot get on the eReader bandwagon.



Honestly, I probably should. It would make a lot more sense for me. Here are some of the upsides of these slick little reading reading gadgets (be they Nook or Kindle or what have you):


  • Ultimately they make reading a cheaper hobby. You wouldn’t think so, since most eReaders come with at least a 200-dollar price tag, but I spend probably four times that on books in any given year. Electronic books are usually cheaper than physical copies (especially hardcovers).
  • It’s super easy to carry your library everywhere. I just moved from one house to another. Lugging my books is always a struggle. Not to mention I already have the spine problems of someone twice my age from carrying heavy bags full of books around.
  • They’s just nifty. We love gadgets. Who doesn’t want another one you can read on?


Well, me, actually. I have a lot of reasons but I’ve never really tried to articulate them. But it hit me sometime last week when I heard that Barnes & Noble was having some stock and money problems.


Of course, we can’t blame B&N’s trouble solely on the increasing popularity of the eReader. So let’s talk about the other issues first.


Voila. Another list.


Why I Will Probably Never Buy an eReader


  • I like real books. I love the way they feel, the way they smell, the way they get worn out when they’ve been loved too much. Curling up in bed with a piece of metal and plastic just isn’t the same as curling up with pages of paper and ink.
  • I want a real library. I’ve been building my personal library for years. I love having books on my shelves and out in the open where I can see them. To me, books make a house a home and that’s a lot to forfeit for a Kindle Fire.
  • I’m an easy person to buy for so long as books are an option. I’m super picky about clothing and that sort of thing, so my family pretty much gave up on that sort of thing and has been buying me books (and movies and music) for every birthday and Christmas for as long as I can remember. People never have a hard time finding something for me. I have a wishlist on Goodreads and Amazon. Simple as that.
  • Books appeal to my old soul. I’m a bit antiquarian in many ways. I like old language and old movies and history and was born in totally the wrong century. Books ground me and remind me of a good story’s permanence.
  • A book is a work of art. From the cover art to the binding to the texture of the raised title. Bookmaking is a craft, and the results are beautiful.


Is it rational? Not really. But that’s the way I like it.


This is not to say that eReaders are any less ‘valid’ than real books. To each his own. In some ways I wish I could do the eReader thing for the sake of practicality.


But then I stumble upon articles like this one and this one and this one and all I want to do is sit in my bed with my arms full of books and guard the precious things with my life.


We all remember when Borders went belly-up. At first it seemed kind of fun – the stores were all having enormous sales and many of us walked away with armfuls of books we bought for just a few dollars. But then we started to see the skeletons of empty bookstores, with signs in the windows like the one pictured at right. That’s when I started to worry.


In many ways, Borders was a victim of the digital revolution. Because we could buy books from Amazon with the click of a button, flesh-and-blood bookstores started to lose their appeal. Everything else has come sliding into the digital age; why not the act of reading? Still it didn’t seem so bad. Even if all the bookstores went out of business, we could still get books in the mail. Then came the eReader. 


The eReader made reading even more effortless. Now you don’t even have to pay for shipping! You just plug it in, download the next thing you want to read and get cracking. You don’t even have to turn the pages yourself or find a bookmark. All you need are eyeballs. The need for real books has been literally eliminated.


I can’t even begin to tell you how much this scares me. I often feel that while 90% of the reading community is jaunting about with their sleek little reading tablets, looking effortlessly chic and modern, I and a few of my stubbornly traditional bibliophiles are sitting dusty and forgotten in the corner of the Last Bookstore on Earth, holding onto our books and the past with long yellowing fingernails and last year’s glasses perched in front of our tired eyes.


But, gathering dust in a corner isn’t really my style. So I’m going to launch a last desperate battle to save the bookstores, because they’re worth saving. Real books and bookstores will always have a place in my heart, even when they invent an eReader that can upload the story directly to your brain by shoving a USB cable up your nose.



I will continue to buy real books in real bookstores as long as they exist. Books changed my life and I owe them that much.


This is where I make a desperate plea to you, fellow book lovers, to join in me on this foolish crusade. No hard feelings if you have an eReader and you love it – but if you could find room in your heart and your wallet to take a trip to the bookstore and buy a few real-life paperbacks once or twice a year, those of us who need paper and ink like we need oxygen will be forever in your debt.


We traditionalists might be fighting a losing battle here, but we’re not done fighting yet. Please spend money on books. Keep bookstores afloat. Because if you don’t, not only will something wonderful be lost forever, but I might have to spend the rest of my life in a padded cell. You don’t want that on your conscience, do you?


If I sound a little desperate it’s because I am. I’m not ready to let go of my bookstores yet. I’m going to keep them in business or go broke trying – and if you help me in this endeavor, I will be eternally in your debt. Buy books for you and your friends and family and anyone else you can think of. Buy them for birthdays and Christmas and no reason at all.


Someday, real books may be worth millions because the bookstore has gone extinct. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does – well, you and I will have the last sad laugh.