E-readers zap the paperbacks

By Darrell Flewell

Are e-books killing off small town bookstores? I don’t think so.
On Jan. 28th, local newspapers reported the advent of e-books creates a challenge for bookstore owners. The article refers to a possible closure of Furby House books in Port Hope. I have a really hard time believing this.  Book lovers flocking to Chapters, I understand, but the e-book has a long way to go outside of the “jet-set”, if the trend ever catches on at all.
Electronic book readers, commonly called “e-books” or more aptly called “e-readers” are relatively simple technology.  With a computer processor and an LCD screen, the device has the capability to store entire books, or entire collections of books, magazines or newspapers.  You can flip through the pages electronically and a backlit screen allows reading to be done virtually anywhere. The devices are very light so hundreds of e-books can be carried easily. Not a bad idea for travelers, especially with the limits on baggage weight.

There are more advantages.  Not only can you scroll through text, you can create digital bookmarks, look up words in a built in dictionary, adjust the size of the text, and even listen to music while you read.  Given the price of regular books, an e-reader can be very economical.  You can buy an e-reader for a few hundred bucks and start downloading books from Amazon over a wireless connection for a few dollars each.  The last hard cover best seller I purchased was over $50.

If they are so great, then why do I see so few of these “e-readers” around town?  Hardly anyone I know has one.  Folks around town that I talk to say they prefer the old fashioned book or newspaper.  How is it possible then that local bookstores cannot survive?  Because they are not competitive.

It would appear the local masses still head into Oshawa, Peterborough or Belleville to visit Chapters. The entire experience of book browsing, flipping, and buying is a wonderful, tactile thing, and local bookstores have gone to great lengths to offer a similar experience, comfy chairs included.    The only other explanation for lack of sales is price.  The same book can be purchased on-line from a major retailer for one third the price.  All local retailers, bookstores included, cannot win a price war.

There must be a way to tap into the local consciousness and retain those sales here in Northumberland.  We need some ingenuity.  Can local retailers do a better job of reminding its citizens that a local purchase funds local charities, the local tax base, and supports the community as a whole?  It is vital for the entire community to keep people shopping on main street.

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