So, not too long ago, I finally caved in and got the Kindle app for my smartphone. And, as someone who can still read small print, it’s not that bad. I can definitely see the appeal of reading a book online, especially with this app telling you how much time you’ve got on a particular tome before you’re done with it.
Ever since Amazon released the Kindle tablet in 2007, leading the way for literature to be bought, sold and read online, many bibliophiles and bookworms have opted to go to their mobile device for a good read, instead of to a nearby bookstore and library. Raleigh fiction writer Suzanne Miller also admitted she’s gone over to the dark side. “I didn’t want to go to it, but 80 percent of people now that are reading are reading on Kindles and electronic devices,” says Miller. “I mean, I like an actual book, but that age is ending.”
And, yet, the big news as of late is that you shouldn’t put actual, physical books on the endangered-species list just yet. Statistics recently released by Nielsen show that e-book sales in the U.S. declined by 6 percent in 2014. Nielsen also dispensed data earlier this year stating that sales of print books rose 2.4 percent last year, with units topping 635 million. However, these figures, which cover 85 perent of the e-book market and mainly represent books that have been sold through major outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, have been heavily debated, especially since the Association of American Publishers declared in March that e-books rose 5 percent in 2014.
Regardless of which report you believe, publishers and booksellers are definitely out to remind everyone that people still read. A couple of weeks ago, Manhattan’s Javits Center hosted the industry convention BookExpo America and the public event BookCon. The latter event certainly was a time for book geeks to get up close and personal with their favorite authors, whether it was Charlaine Harris, the woman behind the novels that begat the HBO show “True Blood,” or “The Mindy Project” star Mindy Kaling, who was there to hype up her soon-to-be-published book “Why Not Me?”
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Hearing that people still have a thing for books must certainly sound like music to the ears of indie booksellers like So & So Books. Located in downtown Raleigh, this small outlet (it shares space with architecture firm In Situ Studio) features a curated selection of books along with works published by local authors and poets. Charles Wilkes, who runs the operation with poet Chris Tonelli, says the store thrives on community input and feedback, looking for suggestions on which books should be put on the shelves. “For me, I just like meeting other readers,” says Wilkes, a former employee of the now-defunct Borders chain. “One thing about working here and talking to other people is I end up having to read a lot of books I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, based on recommendations and stuff.”
While the store has been open for two years now, Wilkes knows that his book-dealing operation can always be shut down by the big boys. “We can’t beat Amazon prices,” he says. “I’ve never taken a dollar out of this. I just pay for new books when I sell a book. So, at this point, it’s all about reading, and we’re relying on people supporting community businesses, basically.”
As Wilkes mentioned, getting physical or digital literature online is not only easy, it’s affordable. It’s what keeps Miller going back to the Interwebs for reading material. “If I could afford it, I would,” says Miller, who also frequents libraries and used bookstores. “My husband’s a schoolteacher. I am an assistant editor of a biology magazine. I make beans, so it’s not easy.”
As much as e-books were supposed to throw a monkey wrench in the world of book publishing, it seems everybody involved with the printed word – publishers, booksellers, authors – is still fighting to make sure people keep reading. With all these reading apps, cheap book prices and star-studded throwdowns like BookCon out to court the geek-chic crowd, it’s almost like these people don’t care whether you get your literature online or at a store – as long as you’re still getting it.