I am often asked for my thoughts on the impact of Electronic Books and the troubles of the big box chain bookstore, Borders. Borders has filed for bankruptcy reorganization and is closing 200 stores. Many communities where Borders stores will be closing are communities that once loved and patronized that most congenial of institutions – a smaller independent bookstore. The smaller store was unable to prosper with Borders across the street. Now Borders is unable to prosper with online vendors across the ether.
The readers in those communities will now have no physical place to talk books or browse the shelves, other than their community libraries. I am hopeful nonetheless, because I feel that these events, and others, are highlighting the value of the physical place and the physical book.
That brings us to Electronic Books. While e-books and print books are not mutually exclusive, we must all exercise critical judgment in the face of a growing deluge of advertising. E-books are in their infancy. But already they are being converted into “enhanced e-books” – digital programs that combine text, computer generated visuals and sounds, with movie clips and narration. Consider that enhanced e-books for children have three modes: “‘Read to Myself,’ which allows the user to read the book in its traditional form; ‘Read to Me,’ where the words are highlighted as the story is read aloud; and ‘Auto Play,’ which plays the app like a movie, automatically reading and turning pages.” This is not value added: it is value subtracted.
When a child reads a book herself, forming images in her mind, and hearing the words in the tones of her own thoughts, the experience is active. When a child reads a book with an adult or a sibling, it is a different experience – it is interactive. Children’s e-books provide an automated alternative to the nurturing interaction of being read to by a loved one. They promote passivity and isolation.
Adults will choose between physical books and e-books, perhaps building libraries of each. E-books have a place of course, but the idea that they are a replacement for physical books is misleading. Our website will likely have e-books available for purchase at some point, and we will greatly appreciate when our customers choose to buy them from us, rather than from vendors who have no shared interest in or investment in our community.
DDG’s central focus, however, shall remain in celebrating the physical book, sharing reading experiences, and providing personal service to our fellow book lovers. Long may real books live on our shelves, in our hands, and in our minds!