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Are eBooks Really the Future? Sales are on the Decline

It seems to be a common question among librarians, staff, and even patrons — will eBooks kill the print book?

I have been dubious myself. I consider myself the type to embrace tech. Not blindly buying the latest and greatest, but open to new things, change and generally excited about any tech that actually improves life. Recently, we re-did the lighting in my home with Hue light bulbs from Phillips. (They rock!) And I would add, that I would absolutely not describe myself as the nostalgic type.ebook

So I – and I don’t think I am alone here — was quite excited about the advent of eBooks. I’d be able to take them anywhere, everywhere, across platforms, pick up my page at anytime, re-size the font, pick a background  — and ditch that book light. Yet some how, I still find myself picking up print copies of books. And visiting the physical library. (And the bookstore.)

In fact, for me, eBooks have turned out not so much as a replacement for my print books, but as a portable compliment. I am, in industry speak, a “hybrid reader.”

So it seems I’m not alone — and librarians in the field might be observing this trend right now. In a September 22, 2015 article of the NY Times “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead,” it turns out the eBook sales are on the decline. This same source is recently referred to in the Library Journal article from March 22, 2016 “Association of American Publishers (AAP) Reports Trade Sales up in November 2015, eBooks Remain Down.”

So what is it about the print books? Many claim nostalgia, but there must be something more behind it.  Is it the singular world of the print book? Is the that graphic designers do actually know which font goes with which story? Is that social networking, solitaire, and shoe shopping don’t loom in some hidden layer underneath, ready to distract us with a single swipe?

Or is it something fundamental, like the smell of the paper & ink?

And what about all those “hybrid readers,” readers who alternate between platforms on the same title — what do those readers  mean for the future of collection development for libraries?

Tangent: I recently watched “Lights Out!” on PBS — a fascinating documentary on how artificial lighting is changing & affecting our lives, right down to the cellular level. There is a good bit on “screen time” and e-Readers (leading to difficulty sleeping). Definitely worth watching…

About Ryanne

Ryanne Cooper, former Bureau Chief of Library Development at the New Mexico State Library, is now a freewheeling library supporter, advocate, and fan of New Mexico's libraries from afar.

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