Are Books Becoming Obsolete?

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What's the thing with e-books everybody is addicted to? I just don't get why people prefer ebooks over the real thing.

I no longer see well enough to read print books easily. I can read an ebook in very large type; I can in fact even read it on a 30'' display, if I need to.

I still love the printed codex book, but to me the book is the text, not the container.
 

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My mom got hooked on ebooks in early Kindle days, when she realized she could finish a book at 2:00 am, and start the next in the series at 2:05 am. :)

Now, unfortunately, she can't handle the technology of a Kindle, and her short-term memory makes reading books of any kind difficult. But she still loves having books around her. Hanging out with the Kindle just isn't the same.

I'm primarily an ebook reader, because my eyes are terrible. But sometimes, for emotional reasons, I just need a paper book. Can't explain it any other way. The Kid doesn't go for ebooks at all, but that may be because we raised her wandering through bookstores. The words may be the same, but there's just something about being able to hold a book.

Books have a unique smell. It's what heaven smells like, or maybe dreams. What your life could be if you read this, or that. I can hang out in a bookstore or university library all day and soak in it. Stacks and stacks charged with all the potential zipping around inside each one.
 

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What's the difference then? I think as writers we should be concerned with this. I think fundamentally what we're discovering for most people is that they don't really like shopping experience all that much, it's about the end product.

Yes, I think this explains the general dying of bricks-and-mortar retail. What's interesting for me is that my one exception - the one thing I prefer to buy in a shop than online - is books. And this is because I have access to an incredible bookshop that offers exactly the right experience: the staff know and love the books and can give recommendations, the shop is nicely laid out and encourages browsing with space and light and chairs, there is excellent choice. The one failure in my opinon is that they shelve fiction alphabetically by author surname instead of by genre, which means 90% of what I buy from them is nonfic. (If anybody is curious, the shop is Hatchards in London - the Queen's bookshop, dontcha know. But the UK's major chain, Waterstones, also gets the experience mostly right.)

Most retail experiences now are the opposite. Staff who don't really care (not blaming them for this), poor choice, narrow aisles so you can't stand and browse comfortably, bad music blaring.

Bricks-and-mortar generally can't compete with online shops for choice or price because they have limited space and higher running costs. The only thing they CAN improve on is the experience. I think many bookshops are still getting this right, especially independents.
 

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Ebooks are nice because I can read them in the dark without any lights on. But then, I actually prefer audiobooks. Yes, some of the subtleties are lost, but I can "read" two books a week and not lose sleep or working time.
"Just one chapter" in a "real" book too often turns into half a day of reading.
Whereas with an audiobook, I can walk the dog and get most of my work (framing) done whilst still following the story....
And, on average we've moved every two years in the last fifteen or so. Books get old pretty fast when you have to lug them about. My main book collection these days is for cooking and reference materials. Things I want to highlight, annotate etc. The rest is either library copy or digital....
 

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I found that buying Kindle books was much better for me, as I would buy books and find they weren't to my taste. My house was turning into mountains of unread books!

I do love my kindle, and it is much easier to read in bed. I still love real books, and plan to get back to my library visits very soon. There is nothing like a good book, and I grew up with the library being my favorite place in the whole world. That being said, I do love the convenience of the Kindle app on my phone. I read it everywhere. Even when I'm waiting to heat up my coffee in the microwave, I can read a line or two.

I think I am still doing good reading. I don't think it is the means of how it is read, it is the content. Right now, I am throughly enjoing "To Kill A Mockingbird." Sad to say, I've never read it. I think it whatever form, it's a book that should be read.

My dining room is decorated in books. I have the books of my son that passed away. Books will always be a thing of beauty to me, but I do love my Kindle. I think they are a great invention.
 

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What's interesting for me is that my one exception - the one thing I prefer to buy in a shop than online - is books. And this is because I have access to an incredible bookshop that offers exactly the right experience: the staff know and love the books and can give recommendations, the shop is nicely laid out and encourages browsing with space and light and chairs, there is excellent choice.

I love the bookstore shopping experience as well, but I'm ashamed to admit on most of those store visits I end up identifying new books to buy on Amazon, then sitting down to read them on my phone in a comfy bookstore armchair.
 

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I love the bookstore shopping experience as well, but I'm ashamed to admit on most of those store visits I end up identifying new books to buy on Amazon, then sitting down to read them on my phone in a comfy bookstore armchair.


You're obviously not that ashamed to admit it. That's not good behaviour, mate.
 

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I love the bookstore shopping experience as well, but I'm ashamed to admit on most of those store visits I end up identifying new books to buy on Amazon, then sitting down to read them on my phone in a comfy bookstore armchair.

That's really reprehensible. You are exploiting the store's labor and services. Go back and buy some stuff to compensate.

Seriously, that's messed up.
 

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That's really reprehensible. You are exploiting the store's labor and services. Go back and buy some stuff to compensate.

Seriously, that's messed up.

Do you also find it reprehensible if someone reads a book from the shelf, chats with friends for an hour or pulls out their laptop and starts typing away? Perhaps someone who works in a bookstore can weigh in, but I imagine the intent behind setting up all these reading areas and turning bookstores into cafes is so that customers will come and hang out inside the store. The longer they stay, the more likely they will buy something even if it's just a coffee.

How about those with vision impairment, who might also enjoy the atmosphere in a bookstore but can only read ebooks? In my case I can read regular books with no problem but simply prefer Kindle app reading experience on my phone. I do buy physical books as gifts from time to time, but for my personal reading I only buy ebooks.
 
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Do you also find it reprehensible if someone reads a book from the shelf without buying it? From the store manager's perspective, I imagine they set up all these reading areas so customers come and hang out inside the store. The longer they stay, the more likely they will buy something even if it's just a coffee.

In my case I enjoy the atmosphere in bookstores, but prefer Kindle app reading experience on my phone, though I do buy physical books as gifts from time to time.


You're using their resources, buying from their competitors, and then using more of their resources. It's shoddy behaviour, and no amount of pretend hand-wringing ("I'm ashamed to admit...") or petulant finger-pointing is going to make it any less shoddy.
 

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I get a gift of at least one print book every year from my dad. It’s always a classical lit piece. My most prized possessions are this library because he also writes a little something in every book.

This year I made it a point to go into Books a Million in Nashville and the place was swamped. I had to stand in line for 15 minutes to check out. Met a nice lady who emigrated from Minnesota under similar circumstances to my own. Had a pleasant chat. The line was still that long when we left.

B&M Books are far from obsolete.
 

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I should check if it's still around. My favourite book store was a place on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, Germany. It had an adjunct coffee shop, catherine's, I believe it was called, where you could take the books and read whilst having cake and coffee, all civilized with real China cups.
Then you could either leave them on the table or go buy them.
There was also a used book store in Potsdam, where the proprietor was an old spy or some such. I bought my friend an 1882 travel guide to Switzerland (100 years before she was born). Stuff like that is priceless. (Though the tag was only €8)
 

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I love the bookstore shopping experience as well, but I'm ashamed to admit on most of those store visits I end up identifying new books to buy on Amazon, then sitting down to read them on my phone in a comfy bookstore armchair.

Yeah, you should be ashamed.
 

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Going to bookstores is nice and all, but as a student with a massive discount on Prime, do I really want to spend that few extra quid on a book in a store when I could get it cheaper the next day? I don't feel ashamed to admit I buy from Amazon or anything. The guilt-tripping on Twitter seems very strange to me. It's not going to make me want to support independent bookstores if all they do is complain about Amazon on social media.
 

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Going to bookstores is nice and all, but as a student with a massive discount on Prime, do I really want to spend that few extra quid on a book in a store when I could get it cheaper the next day? I don't feel ashamed to admit I buy from Amazon or anything. The guilt-tripping on Twitter seems very strange to me. It's not going to make me want to support independent bookstores if all they do is complain about Amazon on social media.

I think the point is this: bookstores will disappear if they're not patronized.

I was in my early 20s when Barnes and Noble first showed up in downtown Boston. We scoffed; nobody was going to replace our little bookstore around the corner! It had a better selection, it knew the neighborhood, etc.

Spoiler: B&N replaced the little bookstore.

Now Amazon is replacing B&N, and I'd feel some schadenfreude if B&N wasn't the only brick and mortar in our area. Amazon's ability to use books as loss leaders has a massive impact on other booksellers.

I patronize Amazon as well, although I only buy books there for other people (I prefer Apple's ebook reader, which means I need epubs). More and more, if I need a paper book rather than an ebook, I'll order it from my local B&N. But I'm not in the least bit pure, and I don't even have the student excuse.

But here's the truth: Amazon is aiming for a monopoly, and they'll get it* precisely because we - in aggregate, and I am absolutely as guilty as anyone else - prioritize speed and "a few extra quid" over a diverse and vibrant market for books.

There's also the library solution, which we all tend to ignore, and that's nuts because I read very few books more than once and I'd save myself money. (New Year's Resolution: figure out how to check out ebooks from our library!)

*I'd argue Amazon already is a monopoly. It's not possible to engage meaningfully with the ebook market without selling through Amazon.
 

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Here in England's second city we (to the best of my knowledge) don't even have proper independent or secondhand stores. It's Waterstones or maybe a Blackwell's and that's about it. And even in those stores the selection isn't that diverse, unless you're looking for YA / fantasy books or whatever's on the NYT lists. Or a really limited selection of classics.

I get that using my student status seems like an excuse but the truth is that I just don't have enough money to have the choice of supporting these other sellers online or not. Not if I want to do others things besides reading, like going for nights out or whatever. And that's why this whole thing feels weird. It's like, sure, if I had a steady job and didn't have the worries of keeping my student finance going for 3 months at a time I probably would help them out. But as it stands the pricepoints are too different for me to consider it.

It feels like the owners of these businesses don't really care about people like us when they tweet out that stuff. Like it's not all my fault I can't afford to help keep your business running. I don't like Amazon but them or maybe AbeBooks are the only real way to get some of the lesser-known books I want.

The library near me is good for almost anything that isn't fiction. They have absolutely no Cormac McCarthy and one Carson McCullers book. That's about representative of their selection!
 

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The library near me is good for almost anything that isn't fiction. They have absolutely no Cormac McCarthy and one Carson McCullers book. That's about representative of their selection!

Have you requested other things? I don't know how libraries work in the UK, but here if you request a book they'll either buy a copy or get it via interlibrary loan.
 

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We have to fill out a form that then takes a crazy amount of time to be responded to. Last time I tried to request a Laird Barron novel was in like November. It's still awaiting a reply.

The amount of details you need to know about the novel you request is crazy, too. I'm not even sure if they buy it or not or just look for it in other libraries.
 

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I should check if it's still around. My favourite book store was a place on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, Germany. It had an adjunct coffee shop, catherine's, I believe it was called, where you could take the books and read whilst having cake and coffee, all civilized with real China cups.
Then you could either leave them on the table or go buy them.
There was also a used book store in Potsdam, where the proprietor was an old spy or some such. I bought my friend an 1882 travel guide to Switzerland (100 years before she was born). Stuff like that is priceless. (Though the tag was only €8)

Berlin is heaven for bookstores! I went to this delightful used-bookstore that literally felt like someone had just filled their house with books and was selling them. I think it was in Kreuzberg? I’ll have to check out the Friedrichstrasse place if I ever make it back!

We have to fill out a form that then takes a crazy amount of time to be responded to. Last time I tried to request a Laird Barron novel was in like November. It's still awaiting a reply.

The amount of details you need to know about the novel you request is crazy, too. I'm not even sure if they buy it or not or just look for it in other libraries.

That’s so awful! I’m sorry :( I’m in the states, and while our library is small, it’s part of a larger network so reserving books is easy. It’s how I do 90% of my reading.

I try to avoid Amazon whenever I can, but I also have the disposable income to do so. Not everyone does, and I wish the conversation was more sensitive to that. B&M bookstores and avoiding monopolies are incredibly important, but individual effort can only go so far. The issues are systematic.

(That said, I don’t like when people go to a bookstore, use their time and resources and *then* buy from Amazon. I’ve worked retail, including a seasonal gig at B&N. There’s a lot of time/opportunity costs the customer doesn’t see. I’m not saying anyone is morally obligated to buy from any one place, because that’d be ridiculous, but c’mon. Common courtesy)
 

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We have to fill out a form that then takes a crazy amount of time to be responded to. Last time I tried to request a Laird Barron novel was in like November. It's still awaiting a reply.

The amount of details you need to know about the novel you request is crazy, too. I'm not even sure if they buy it or not or just look for it in other libraries.

I haven't worked at a library in <mumble> years, but demand does play a role. If they don't think there'll be a big demand for something, they'll try to borrow it from another library.

And yes, I feel your frustration. But demand is how we fix this. Keep asking. Even if you eventually get the book from another source, keep asking. Libraries need to know what people want.

(Not meaning to put this on you, Elfriede. Suggesting it for all of us, whenever we find the opportunity.)
 

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We have to fill out a form that then takes a crazy amount of time to be responded to. Last time I tried to request a Laird Barron novel was in like November. It's still awaiting a reply.

The amount of details you need to know about the novel you request is crazy, too. I'm not even sure if they buy it or not or just look for it in other libraries.

You may have reciprocal borrowing privileges at other libraries for free, based on your possession of a local library card; I went to school in Derby, and later Aberystwyth, but had privileges at several libraries based on my local card.

You can find a library near you that has a particular book by using WorldCat.
 

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Uni libraries usually have extensive collections of fiction. They also (generally) do free ILLs for students. You've probably already checked your uni catalogue, Elfriede, but I thought I'd just mention it.
 

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Asimov wrote an essay in 1973 "The Ancient and the Ultimate" about a portable re... | Hacker News - what he wrote:
You'll have to admit that such a cassette would
be a perfect futuristic dream: self-contained,
mobile, non-energy-consuming, perfectly private,
and largely under the control of the will.

Ah, but dreams are cheap so let's get practical.
Can such a cassette possibly exist? To this, my
answer is Yes, of course. The next question is:
How many years will we have to wait for such a
deliriously perfect cassette?

I have an aster for that, too, and a quite
definite one. We will have it in minus five
thousand years--because what I have been
describing...is a book!
Except for one little thing: books don't have a built-in search mechanism. I researched the subject of computer text editors, and I found that they go back to the early 1960's, with the "Colossal Typewriter" being the first or close to the first. I also found that the first one with a built-in search mechanism is not much younger than that, likely one called "TECO" (text editing and correcting). Nearly every text editor, word processor, spreadsheet, database front end, e-book reader, and web browser that I've ever used has a built-in search facility, and search engines are an important part of the Internet.
 

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Isaac Asimov also anticipated information search becoming a big thing.

In the late 1950's, he wrote an essay, "The Sound of Panting", describing his efforts to keep up with all the scientific literature in his professional field, biochemistry.

Asimov Suggests Science of Data | News | The Harvard Crimson
Science's rapid accumulation of data, Asimov said, has created the need for a new branch of science, information retrieval. The new field, he said, should attempt to make the data scientists need available to them simply "by pushing the right button."

Regaling his audience with a Jackie Masonesque style, Asimov then launched into a lengthy example of how Mendel's theories of heredity were overlooked for a generation, the delay producing misconceptions that may ultimately have led to two world wars.

What he talked about has more-or-less come to pass in the form of preprint archives and abstract-search services, like arxiv and Google Scholar. Computerized searching there also.
 

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