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I wrote a post more than a year ago about the Kindle and its growing affect on the book world. This past December, e-book sales surpassed printed book sales for the first time since e-book technology was introduced to the market. Since then, e-book sales only seem to be strengthening. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have both reported that e-book sales now exceed print sales for their companies. I suppose when I first read that statistic, I wrote it off to people receiving e-readers and Amazon gift cards as holiday gifts. Almost all of my close friends now have an e-reader of some type -- and most received it as a gift within the past six months, for either Christmas or Valentine's Day.
On one hand, this news makes me happy. As a lifetime reader, a person with an English degree, and a Language Arts teacher, I'm thrilled to see people genuinely enjoy reading. I make it a daily quest, both on this blog and in my classroom, to interest others in reading good books. I love being at dinner with friends and the chatter suddenly turning to which books we've read lately. I strongly feel that in our age of instant gratification and technology-driven activities, e-readers have ignited an interest in reading where little existed before. Friends I never thought of as "readers" requested e-readers for Christmas (or bought them for themselves). These new (or returning) readers make my heart happy.
Reading enriches our lives in more ways than we could ever imagine. In addition to the simple pleasure that reading can be, books open our minds to new ideas. They take us to continents and fictional lands we couldn't fathom otherwise. They teach us lessons, both general life lessons but also practical how-to skills at times. Reading feeds our brains in a way nothing else can. Multiple intelligence theory will tell you that there are many ways to learn; I would argue that reading plays an important part in all of them. Little in this world can compare to the myriad forms reading can take; from poetry to children's books, science fiction to biographies, what else offers such a wide range of choices on topics from animals living at the bottom of the sea to otherworldly angels?
On the other hand, my negative self loathes the ever-growing e-book market. What will happen to books? I think to myself. Real, live, hold-in-your-hand books? Books that feel different from one another, have smooth glossy pages or deckled-edges. Books that look different from one another, from thin, roughly-hewn chapbooks to wide, thick coffee table tomes. I know the thought seems far-fetched, but the truth is the market is changing. Consumers want an instant rather than a well-crafted product.
I myself am sometimes one of these -- in the past couple of months, I've begun reading e-books on my iPod touch, and I'm seriously considering purchasing an actual e-reader. But although I like the convenience, and the accessibility, I dread a day when books are no more. Like records, CDs, floppy discs -- things that felt important for so long. Until they didn't. Until they were obsolete. Now granted, I realize books have been around for centuries longer than those items. Yet with the advent of the e-reader age, publishers and booksellers can only take so much. At some point, the consumer-driven market wins out, and at the very least production of printed books decreases. Orders become smaller, authors and publishers choose the cheaper route to consumers' hands: the e-book.
Can we do anything about this? Honestly, I'm not sure. And, I'm not sure it matters. Technology has won battles already, as e-books passed printed book sales. I'm benefiting as much as anyone else with this newer, faster, easier way to read. Do I hope printed books never leave (and do I dread the day when they're gone -- or at least fewer in number)? Of course. But progress will, in fact, progress -- with us or without us.
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