By Nora Vasconcelos
A few months ago it was announce that the first bookless library had been opened in Texas, USA. This news find a place almost everywhere and it was showed as a spectacular innovation, a sign of the future, but what does it mean for the publishing industry and the printed editions?
Such library, is located in Bexar County, near the city of San Antonio, and it’s name says more about how it works than anything else: The BiblioTech serves the readers through computer screens and it contains no books at all.
The story about this bookless library brought immediately to my mind some of the articles written by the American author Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992), who predicted in his essay The Ultimate Library that at some point in the future “everything in libraries would be digitalized and people could reach any book just by connecting to a personal gadget”.
However, it’s the same Asimov who said that, even with all the advantages of a Global Computerized Library that will contain all the knowledge of books around the world, “this wouldn’t be end the publishing business, it only would transform it“.
It’s this last statement that made me think about the way libraries and bookstores have faced the changes in the book industry in the past 15 years, from the economical crises to the boom in sales of ebooks, issues that have made dealers and librarians rethink their strategies.
For the libraries the challenge is to acquire new equipments that allow them to offer visitor a digitalized experience as well as the regular one. The advantage of digital editions is that it reduces the damages that books suffer while being lent several times to different people, the disadvantage is that economical resources are not always available for libraries, specially because most of them are public and depend on governmental grants.
As for bookstores, the popularity of ebooks has leave them in a complete disadvantage as they’ve lost many customers, specially the younger ones who are more likely to buy e-books.
According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), the total share of ebooks in the trade market increased from 0.6 percent in 2008 to 6.4 percent in 2010, this from a total market of 114 million units sold in 2010.
This combined with the problems in the economy, caused that many book dealers, small and big ones, had to close down their business or merge. So in the past decades we’ve seen cases like Borders disappearing under the Barnes and Noble umbrella.
As for the small or medium size bookstores, about 1% of them have closed down in the US during the first decade of this century, leaving the States with some 10,000 units, after over 1,000 have gone under in this country.
The disappearing of so many bookstores concerns not only the owners, it also worries authors such as James Patterson, who announced a few weeks ago that he would donate $1 million dollars of his personal fortune to 55 independent bookshop around the US.
In a statement, Patterson said that ‘bookstores are vital to communities and that they leave a lasting love of reading in children and adults‘.
Regarding the readers, they hold split opinions, from the ones who swear they never leave their printed editions to the ones who have e-readers with digital editions.
What holds the future for the book business is still an open question. Industry experts have also divided opinions, but the general consensus seems to be that the e-book publishing business will keep growing, but the printed editions will remain current.
Many readers benefit from both of them, as they still enjoy the experience of holding a printed book on their hands, turning the pages, smelling them, listening to them as they move, and keep the reading at their own pace without worrying if the e-reader will turn off or if it’ll run out of batteries.
These readers are the ones that remain faithful to bookstores where they can wander around, look at the shelves, and enjoy the experience of buying a book while having that relaxing experience that is only provided by bookstores.
On the other hand, some readers find in e-readers a useful tool which give them freedom, specially while traveling, because they can have at hand hundreds of e-books in a very light and small device.
For them the options are ample, either if they have a e-reader or a tablet, the access to the e-book market is easy and fast.
So, for all concerned, the challenge is in the air, bookstore owners keep looking for creative ways to adjust their business to this new era, either with café style additions and dedicated services according to the needs of their customers; the publishing industry keeps trying to attend the versatile demand of this two sectors, the same as public libraries.
However, in the end, it seems that the reader will have the last word once they’ve defined their preferences and have decided which world (the printed or the digital one) fits them better, or if they prefer, as many do, to navigate in both of them.