Out with the old, in with the new?
The emerge of a new medium often raises the question: what will happen to the old medium? The e-reader can be seen as a remediation of the traditional printed book. But has the e-reader changed the way we buy and read our books? Has it affected the sales of traditional books in the way publishers feared?
In the first five months of this year sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books. Just a year earlier hardbacks had been worth more than three times as much as e-books, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books. The drift to digits will speed up as bookshops close. Borders, once a retail behemoth, is liquidating all of its American stores.
The above quote shows that there has been a significant effect on book sales after the introduction of ereaders. The 1st Generation Kindle, introduced in 2007, had a 6″ screen and 250 MB internal memory. It could hold up to 200 non-illustrated books and was sold for $400,00. The Kindle 3 was introduced in 2010 at a much lower price; $139,00. It had an improved battery that lasts for months, and holds well over 1500 books.
With the Kindle 3, Amazon has introduced an affordable and efficient alternative to traditional books. And because ebooks cost a lot less than printed books, buyers are more likely to purchase more books. Still, publishers fear that low prices will lower their profits. The prices are often not significantly lower, to ensure a profit is still made. Another big issue is piracy. Book files are very small and therefore easily distributed in bulk.
The way we read books also plays part in the decision between ebooks and printed books. When traveling, a Kindle is the ideal device to carry a number of books around with you without it taking up weight and volume in your suitcase. However, the trade-off is emotional value. The experience of reading a traditional printed book does not compare to reading an ebook. The smell of paper, the sound of turning a page and the little folds in pages where you stopped reading. I buy second hand books not only for the money, but also because of the fantasy of the previous owner. Notes on the pages, a different scent, they give a book a different character. On my Kindle I still exchange books with others, but the digital format contains no traces of its users. It’s anonymous.
For practical reading and study-related material, the Kindle is a helpful instrument. It does what it needs to do and I don’t have to make an effort. But when I look for a thrilling, dramatic page turner that I can’t put away until I’m done, I still prefer my smelly, yellowpaged second hand books.
A quite long, but good article on the Kindle can be found in The New Yorker