Once More, With Feeling

Josie Leavitt -- February 2nd, 2012

The battle against Amazon seems to be never-ending. The New York Times featured a long story over the weekend about Barnes & Noble’s struggle to fight the online behemoth with ebook content. I’m not even going to discuss the absolute irony of the article about B&N feeling the pressure from Amazon, when in fact, B&N is responsible for the closure of many indies in the 1990s.

The death knell for the physical book seems to be getting louder every day as the ebook threatens to subsume the publishing world as we know it. I have had it.

Books with pages and covers and that yummy book smell are not going away. To constantly say that they are is giving Amazon more power than it deserves. Yes, the ereaders are fun, and there might be something nice about having thousands of books in one little device, but real readers, the people who have kept bookstores open for years, are not all going to switch to the new technology. Maybe I’m being a Pollyanna here, but I’ve more customers tell me that they actually don’t like their Nook, Kindle or other ereader. They want real books. And our sales for January bear this out as we ended up 10% over last January.

Are we all fighting for our lives? Hell, yes. But let’s stop whining about it. Whining never made me want to support a cause. Want to make the book stays around forever? Stop letting three-year-olds play with book apps. A book doesn’t make noise at you. A book doesn’t have ten links to press per page that take you away from the story. A book doesn’t sound words out for you. A book lets you use your imagination – some anti-book folks would say, forces kids to use their imagination. I think every kid should be able to read The Cat in the Hat and feel a growing anxiety about when the parents are coming home. There shouldn’t be a hundred ways to pull you out of the story thereby diluting it. Kids have enough distractions thrown at them every day, a book should be a sanctuary. And yes, some books are going to be work, but that’s okay. I struggled with reading until I was eight and I survived quite nicely.

If children now grow up with ebooks that start to feel like video games how can a book with pages, words and pictures compete? These kids will expect books to do more with no effort on their part. I see a lack of imagination every day with kids. A child comes in with a stuffed animal and I ask what the animal’s name is and eight times out of ten the animal either has the name it came with on the price tag, or it doesn’t have a name. These kids need heaps of free time where all they have to do is think and imagine. I cannot comprehend not naming a favorite stuffed animal, or just calling it Dog.

Here’s another way to keep the book alive. Start talking to pre-teens and teens about the importance of the real book and bookstores. These kids have surprising amounts of money at their disposal. These are also the kids who latch on to a cause and fight for it and make it the law of their household. Make their cause your store and real books. Talk to them about shopping locally and supporting your town. They’re smart, they’ll get it.

Books are not sexy compared to ereaders. They don’t do anything but provide words on a page. And that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

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