Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's with all the reader formatism?


I'm sensing a growing... formatism in the book world, a new form of bookish snobbery. That is, reading formatism, aka, in which format you prefer to read. Hardcover? Paperback? Audio? ... GASP EREADER? DEAR GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU the internet seems to cry. DON'T YOU KNOW YOU ARE KILLING THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE? AND BORDERS, RIP!

Pledges to read the printed word abound. People, including indie bookstore owners and avid readers everywhere, blame evil Amazon and the Kindle for their struggle to survive amid the rise in bookstore closings the past few years. Tumblr had this post circulating today, and probably for a while now, in which pictures of closed bookstores are depressingly lined up, possibly to shame us. "I pledge to read the printed word" says one comment. Another, "I'll never by an eReader." And lastly, "Breaks my heart to see this. Precisely the reason I pledged to read the printed word a year ago."

Readers, yes, it is devastating, tragic, even, to lose bookstores, indie and goliath alike. But, I can't help but ask: seriously? Do you actually think Amazon and rise of ebooks are entirely to blame? Have you, by some small chance, noticed anything else going on in the world over the past 3-4 years? Like, perhaps, oh, I don't know, maybe the financial meltdown and the collapse of the global economy, and the impending imploding economical apocalypse of doom the media keeps crying about? Would you consider, possibly, that some of that may have had an effect on bookstores' buoyancy battles?

Here's the thing. Despite the economageddon and our imminent deaths at the hands of the army of the undead (lurking creepily around the next corner), book sales have, according to the AAP, remained, amazingly, somewhat steady. Yes, ebook sales are increasing dramatically, and paper book sales are declining, but, really, it's not as bad as everyone is whining about:
According to Tom Allen, President and Chief Executive Officer of AAP, “The February results reflect two core facts: people love books and publishers actively serve readers wherever they are. The public is embracing the breadth and variety of reading choices available to them. They have made e-Books permanent additions to their lifestyle while maintaining interest in print format books.” (emphasis mine)
The amazing thing is that people are reading and talking about it like never before. We're tweeting about it. We're blogging about it. We're sharing on Goodreads. We're interacting with authors on all these platforms. Some are creating sites dedicated to the passion of reading.

One more fallacy in the argument of the ebook as having sole responsibility for a decline in indie sales: The library. No one is going to blame the library - where you can go borrow just about any book you want - for FREE - for the demise of the bookstore.  (Are they?) Furthermore, most independent stores now have an option to buy an ebook through their websites (using google kobo books), allowing the tech-savvy reader to both buy an ebook and support his or her favorite bookish hangout.

My own habits are anything but consistent. I have kindle books. I listen to audiobooks. I borrow books from the library. I buy physical books - hardcover, paperback, whatever. I buy them from Amazon, from indie stores, borrow from friends. I have my own complicated system* of determining in what format I will read and whether the book will be borrowed or bought.

(I was going to celebrate the growth of indie stores in the St. Louis area, which actually gained an indie bookstore three years ago and has formed it's on independent bookstore alliance that hosts awesomely nerdy things like book cruises, but this post is already stupid long (and oh look, oops, I just did it anyway - STL FTW). I was also going to compare the pros and cons of different formats (for example, here Vintage Anchor points out the joys of owning physical books), but I've run out of steam, and that's worthy of its own entire post.)

Indie bookstores are going to survive, in some form - they're just suffering some growing pains. Everything is gonna be okay, dear readers, no matter what format you prefer. You're now free to choose from more formats than ever before. Don't be a formatist. Celebrate others reading, no matter the device (or non-device).

Reading is evolving. And it's beautiful.

*Loosely based on perpetually sliding scales of disposable cash for books, strength of desire to read a book on a given day, time to read a book, availability of said book at local library, price on kindle vs. price of paperback vs. price of used copy, how awesome the physical book will look on my shelf, how much shelf space I have left, whim, whimsy, etc. Like I said, it's complicated.

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