The Future of Books

Text by Nora Vasconcelos

Books and more booksAs ebooks beocome more popular, I keep of having mix feeling about them.

On the one hand, I feel amazed by how wonderful these ebooks are, as you can simply file them in your ebook reader or your tablet and take them all around, as many as you want, without even having any problems with space. This is a wonderful thing while traveling.

On the other hand, I always miss the exciting feeling of having an actual book in my hands, feeling them and even smelling and listening to them as I turn the pages.

I also miss the outstanding feeling of wandering around the bookstores. I remember it was just a few years ago when going to the bookstore was one of the most exciting experiences as I was able to get almost any book I wanted at any given time.

However, this has been changing very quickly and nowadays it’s harder to find those huge bookstores in which everything was around. Now even though the bookstores keep a big selection, most of the time when a book’s not found on the shelves you’re often offered a book order by the same boostore.

So I keep on having these conflicted feeling in which I like ebooks and at the same time dislike them (for taking over printed books), and I keep on wishing that at some point bookstores will find their way to be the amazing places I’ve always love, and I keep on wishing that the Memorable Bookstores I’ve visited, will remain as great as they are.

At the same time, I’m grateful for the digital iniciatives like Project Gutenberg that aim to spread the love for books by sharing with the world thoushands of ebooks.

This kind of digital universal libraries remind me of an essay written by Isaac Asimov called The Ultimate Library, in which the author foresaw in 1980 what was going to be like the library of the future, in which, according to him, everything would be digitalized and people could reach any book just by connecting to a personal gadget such as a TV Set.

In his article, Asimov shows all the advantages of a Global Computarized Library that will contain all the knowledge of books around the world.

At the same time, the writer explained the benefits of the practical applications of the knowledge gotten from those digital books, and said that this wouldn’t be end the publishing business, it only would transform it, Asimov said.

So, while the books world keeps on changing, readers like me keep on trying to adjust fast to these new technologies, and in my case, I keep on treasuring more and more my big collection of printed books.

As for the new generation, the same Asimov said it well, it will be difficult for them how was the world without digital libraries.

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The evolution of books

By Nora Vasconcelos

LibraryA 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.

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May books lead your dreams

Friendly allies.
I usually spend a great deal of time ridding the subway and walking around the city. It’s during these times when I have time to observe the way the town comes to live with people running all around, usually in a hurry to get somewhere, many times worried or in a bad mood. I’ve been one of them myself most than one time, when the time gets short and the list of occupations gets even longer.

But I’ve also found that this long travels throughout the city always give the chance to spend a pleasant time with my beloved books. And I always find it really surprising how fast time passes by when I’m reading, even if I get stuck between stations or in the middle of the traffic. Books simply take my mind away and let it fly free.

Being in this reflexive mood about how big cities, books and writers relate, this week I also came across to an interesting article that talked about Otavio Junior, a man who spent most of his young life in a poor neighborhood in Brazil.

One day a book came to his hands and then his life changed forever.
Since that moment he started borrowing books from his neighbors, and then he realized that books where making his life better and nicer. Then he decided to share this experience with other kids, and Junior started a library project to give people from the same neighborhood the chance to get close to books.

Now, Otavio Junior has written a book that’s being called Biblioteca Favela (The bookstore of the neighborhood) and while presenting this book in Spain, he told El Mundo newspaper the following: “Everybody told me ‘You’re crazy’, but I always answered, I’m not crazy, I’m only in love with books”.

This week I also got moved while reading Ray Bradbury’s biography, after this great American writer died some days ago.

Bradbury liked to walk and to observe the people and the city around him and then reflect this observations on his stories. As a child and a young man, he didn’t have so much money but books were always present in his life. As he couldn’t afford to buy them, he spend a lot of time in public libraries reading and learning the subjects that he couldn’t study at school, as his family couldn’t afford it.

Bradbury even wrote his first story and even his novel Fahrenheit 451 at a university library and with a rental typewriter.

In 2009, Bradbury told The New York Times: “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years”.

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