And still the Queen kept crying "Faster! Faster!" but Alice felt she could not go faster, thought she had not breath left to say so.
Maybe it reached crisis point last weekend when I discovered that the Whole Earth Catalog, that iconic counter-culture tome of my youth, is available online in a time machine of editions. Or maybe I've been thinking about e-books too much lately.
Whatever the catalyst, I felt particularly drawn to Ann Kingman's recent post at her excellent Booksellers Blog, where she asked some pertinent--and usefully impertinent--questions about the possibilities and challenges in a retail environment where e-books and consumer access to information online for readers of all ages increasingly conspire to challenge indie booksellers.
I read articles about e-books every day, and seldom is the perspective of booksellers solicited. If their future is considered at all, it's often noted as a side comment about impending doom, the dangers of Fahrenheit 451 apparently being usurped by Web 2.0, 3.0. 4.0, 5.0 . . . Like Ann, I keep wondering how indies will surf these treacherous but seductive electronic waves.
I'm a book person by nature and profession, but new technology intrigues me, too. Although I own neither a Kindle nor Sony Reader, I read on screens of every description. What I seem to be waiting for is a device that allows me to bypass Remote Control Syndrome.
What is RCS? There are often three or four remote control devices on coffee tables throughout the land. If you visit friends and haven't been properly trained, you can't perform the simple act of watching their television because firing it up requires one controller to turn on cable, another for the TV, yet another if a DVD player is involved (or, bless them, a still functioning VHS player), and still others for music systems. Which one controls volume is anybody's guess.
With RCS in mind, every time I toss another electronic device into my briefcase, I wonder why, if we can put an electro-metaphorical man on the moon in terms of wi-fi and touch screens and downloaded episodes of Lost, we can't get all this stuff on a single device.
But I also wonder how all of this figures into the future of independent bookselling and what we can do about it. Which brings me to e-books and what I hope will be our first discussion of 2009. Here's a conversation starter:
- AFP: "Shortcovers expects to be turning iPhones into electronic books . . ."
- Newsday: "Boy, do I have high-tech idea for those of you who got a shiny new smartphone for Christmas: Try reading a book on it."
- The Tennessean: "In the trade space, what I think we'll see is a period of time where we'll see a lot of experimentation," said Frank Daniels III, COO, Ingram Digital Group. "But our observation thus far is that you can't underestimate people's willingness to read on a smart phone. There have been less than 500,000 Kindles and Sony Readers sold in 2008. And there have been how many millions of iPhones sold?"
- Wired: "But what about whole books? Think you need to invest in the Kindle? You could, but why lug around yet another device when the iPhone can do a perfectly acceptable job?"
I'd like to join Ann in asking readers for their thoughts on e-books and bookstores. As Alice told the Red Queen, "Well, in our country, you'd generally get to somewhere else--if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
- How do independent booksellers find their way in the new world without leaning too heavily on the old chestnut that some readers will always want to handle a book, feel the pages, etc.?
- Is there a place for e-books in the indie store retail future and what will that look like?
- Can indie booksellers find even more ways to redefine and reinvent their handselling expertise for the digital age?
- Could there be an indie bookstore version of Apple's Genius Bars, helping readers navigate both paper and digital worlds?
- What are you doing now?
- What are you doing next?
Consider the Red Queen's advice: "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
If we're already running as fast as we can to stay where we are, how do we run even faster?-