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Hello iPad . . . Good-bye Bookstore?

Reading the Paradigm Shift

by Doug Gorney

21st century bookstore, tony kainauskus
Tony and Sharon Kanauskus are closing 21st Century Bookstore after over 26 years.

An interesting convergence of news recently: one of my favorite bookstores, 21st Century Books in Fairfield, is going to be closing its doors. The Bodhi Tree, a beacon to spiritual/metaphysical readers on the West Coast for almost half a century, also announced that it is also going out of business. And at a San Francisco event charged with months of breathless anticipation, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad multimedia reader.

It starts with a ripple here, a cloud there. A slight shift in the wind or the color of the water…before you know it, you're in the middle of a full-on sea change. While no one can say with certainty what the future of the transforming publishing industry will be, limned by these three stories it seems likely that the printed word won't be part of it.

First, the bright, shiny, techno-futurist side of the coin. The iPad opens an exciting new chapter in media consumption and production. The multi-touch screen of the purpose-built media device can (and I believe will) fulfill the promise that the online environment always offered but that the PC never really delivered. Direct screen manipulation makes possible the intuitive, tactile and instant navigation of a physical newspaper and enables levels of rich media limited only by the imagination of publishers. Sidebars can spring to life as full-blown, multimedia-enhanced features; hyperlinks zoom out of their tedious confinement, giving an online magazine almost infinite stickiness; and videos and audio tracks will make printed stories jump off the page like the living pictures in a tabloid at Hogwarts. (And no, I can't tell you who is going to pay for content in the end.)

The iPad may usher in a flowering of books, too. Media-rich readers like the iPad (well, there aren't any, yet) free books from the bonds of their binding and make possible "literally" three-dimensional storylines, mouseover metafictions, and latticeworks of corollary material more hyperbolic than a Borges fever dream.

Come now the dark bits.

I'm a new media maven and gadget geek, but I'm an old-school book-lover, too: the iPad, to my eye, is the final nail in the coffin of the bookstore, and very likely the printed book itself.

It's hardly news that the young century has been a lean one for booksellers. Not just independents and specialists like 21st Century and The Bodhi Tree, but even big chains like Borders. I don't claim to know whether people simply don't read books in these sped-up, distracted times; books sales at Amazon and the buzz over their Kindle would suggest that they do. And Lord knows people have stuff to say; they're dying to write about it and publish it — somewhere, somehow. But one only need to look at the record industry to guess where we might end up: in the age of the iPod, CDs are obsolescing as quickly as ink blotters or buggy whips. I see the iPad, the iPod's sibling, doing the same thing to physical books.

It's simply a business equation: there will always be a hard core of old-school book-lovers, like myself, who love their shelves overflowing with musty, cloth-bound anthologies; smug trade paperbacks; fat, spine-cracked best-sellers purchased at Midwestern airports; tall, heavy, unread art books, written to accompany that show at the Whitney you never quite made it to; the odd graphic novel with its garish, you-gotta-problem-with-that? jacket; a few tattered, foreign-language novels by obscure authors, titles reading in the wrong direction like confused emigrants at the dock; but if enough people get their books electronically, rather than in printed form — and they're starting to — there will no longer be enough demand for paper books to make it worth printing them.

Oh, there's talk of bookstores going to a print-on-demand model. Really, though…why bother? At best that sort of thing would be like the specialty market that's kept vinyl alive. The fact that you can make any number of books appear, zip, with the click of a mouse — or more to the point the touch of your iPad — is going to shutter most remaining bookstores within five years.

It sickens me to think of my beloved City Lights closing its doors in San Francisco's North Beach, or Prairie Lights in Iowa City, or Green Apple or Strand or Powell's, but publishing's new e-paradigm is going to hit Barnes and Noble hard, too. Maybe not as hard, not right away, but unless the big chains can cash in on the New Book, their story will surely come to a close.

I'm open to being wrong. I would love to be wrong. If you think my logic's flawed, and see printed books sharing the marketplace as comfortably as TV and radio, sketch that scenario out for me. Bring some hard facts and an infallible argument and talk me down.

But the writing, one regrets to say, is on the wall…and the facts, with each spiffy new e-reader, and with each 21st Century, Bodhi Tree, Black Oak, Cody's or [fill in the name of your late, lamented, local bookseller] that closes, are on my side.

Read more about the closing of 21st Century Bookstore.

Visit the Index for more book reviews and articles about Iowa authors.


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written by Kaarisa B. Karley, April 13, 2010
So sorry that the 21st Century Bookstore is closing. Have been going there since 1983
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written by Douglas Gorney, March 04, 2010
This guy's take: Good riddance! http://craigmod.com/journal/ipad_and_books/
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written by Douglas Gorney, March 02, 2010
Thanks, Richard. Yes, the future of the library is an interesting question. Being that e-books cost money, the library could be a place to read them…or to "borrow" them, "checking them out," digitally, for a limited period. This addressing Chris Connors' question, sort of. And of course there's the whole issue of piracy to contend with…

Here's an essential article from the Times for anyone interested in the subject: http://tinyurl.com/yemq9kh It's about e-book pricing models, but it also gets right to the core of the issue we're discussing here:

"As more consumers buy electronic readers and become comfortable with reading digitally, if the e-books are priced much lower than the print editions, no one but the aficionados and collectors will want to buy paper books." The only question is when.
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written by Chris Connors, February 26, 2010
Something to be worked out for the future, then: how to electronically share a book once I've read and enjoyed it? The simple gesture of handing someone a book and saying, "I think you'll enjoy this," may be doomed. I love my gadgets and gizmos, and I'm glad to still enjoy real books, too. I'm thinking that the books already printed will be kept and shared and enjoyed, similar to the vinyl records some of us have kept; I still am amazed when I listen to "Beatles 6" on vinyl! Long live what each of us loves.
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written by Richard Schneider, February 20, 2010
My question: Is this the canary in the coal mine for libraries? As book publishing changes and book stores close are libraries next? Libraries are working hard to adapt and become more active as community centers and places people can go to use technology and get on-line. Libraries are busier than ever due to the economy. As people accept and use the new technologies, book publishing will change and who is best known for the book brand? Book stores and libraries.
Richard Schneider, Assistant Director, Muskegon Area District Library, Michigan
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written by Douglas Gorney, February 15, 2010
Just caught this via Twitter - how multi-touch changes everything: http://trentwalton.com/2010/02/02/multi-touch/
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written by Douglas Gorney, February 13, 2010
Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Sankari, you're the best.

Steven, xlnt data re environmental considerations of this paradigm shift.

Will, never said the iPad or even e-reading is what is closing bookstores now - that's largely the economics of the publishing industry, as you point out. However, I do believe that e-book adoption will cross a tipping point where printing books no longer makes sense, from a business standpoint. Furthermore, just as "the iPod revolution" http://articles.sfgate.com/200...ital-sales essentially killed the CD, I think we're going to call the death of the printed book "the iPad revolution" - just as the successful design of the iPod drove mp3 adoption, the superior features and tactile and visual UX of the iPad (which you note) will put it at the vanguard of the transformation in the way we read.
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written by Sankari Wegman, February 11, 2010
Great article Doug! Fabulously written. It makes me think more of how our world is changing in terms of its values, how we see/process the world in these hi-speed times - and really what the larger impact of those changes are in how we critically think, absorb and process.... Sending your article to all my peeps! Best wishes for Tony and Sharon as well! Hugs!
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written by WP, February 10, 2010
What Will said!
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written by Will Merydith, February 10, 2010
1) The iPad isn't the bookstore killer. That boat has already sailed and it's called Amazon free shipping (books), Amazon Kindle and other ebooks, and file Torrents (pirated PDFs which are widely available on the web). Just like the iPod wasn't the music store killer - it was the technology of Napster and other products of online file-sharing technology. It's an important distinction to understand.

2) Why read the http://FairfieldVoice.com or IowaSource.com in ePub format ON THE IPAD? You've got a fully capable web browser (Safari) on the iPad. Where you can interact (comment, share, bookmark, subscribe, publish, and link through to other sites). Why would a news/blog publisher spend the time and money to publish in ePub? Would they charge for it when the same content is more consumable and free in the browser?

3) Anyone that has handled a Kindle or comparable e-ink platform and read a book (a whole book) and compared that to the experience of reading on an LCD, should be hesitant to claim ereading adoption rates on the iPad that are comparable to emusic adoption on the iPod. The iPad, is unlike the iPod in that there are other devices that beat Apple's iPad in specific usability cases (like ereading). While I am a fan of what the iPod has done for music consumption, I am a bigger fan of what iPad competitor devices have done for ebook consumption.

4) The power of the iPad is in the depth of features. It's an ok erader, but more importantly it's a great, connected mobile media device. And will most likely release with video conferencing ability. That's where the iPad conversation should be. smilies/wink.gif
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written by Steven Garner, February 10, 2010
Well I guess my big question is "can I get the Iowa Source in ePub file format yet?" (as used by the iPad = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPUB). My iPad is coming next month!

Another thing that should probably be mentioned in the context of this article is the ecological impact of electronic publishing. Apparently up to 14,130 one pound books can be produced from an acre of forested land (ref: http://www.wipapercouncil.org/fun3.htm). By comparison, a 64GB iPad will be able to store an extraordinarily large number of ePub books from Apple's iBookstore, perhaps even the entire inventory of 21st Century Books?

The iPad is going to sell in the tens of millions or more. Amazon's Kindle has already sold in the millions. Let's say that 20 million iPads each have 20 iBooks - that's 400 million iBooks. (The true numbers will be so much greater) If each one of them was the equivalent of a one pound book, well that has rescued more than 28,000 acres of forest from being denuded. I'm sure in reality the number is significantly higher.

These iPads are multi-purpose devices too, not just iBook readers. Apple claims 75 million people already own an iPhone or iPod. In just 6 years, Apple sold more than 6 billion songs through their iTunes store - imagine how many barrels of oil have been conserved with those downloads not being manufactured into CD's, jewel cases and printed inserts. Similarly for DVD's with movies being sold online.

At the same time, the iPad has its own environmental impact. The 1.5 pound device boasts arsenic-free display glass, BFR-free and PVC-free, mercury-free LCD display, and a recyclable aluminum and glass enclosure. Even so eReaders consume significant finite resources (including the electricity to run them), while books are made from recyclable trees. These devices won't last even 1 per cent as long as the printed books they replace (how many computers have you already had in your lifetime?) - I have books that were owned by my great-grand-parents.

I have been purchasing PDF file books now for nearly 15 years, including cheaper versions of quite expensive text books. The iPad will continue to drive down the cost of information.

The passing of 21st Century Books is indeed a turning point for Fairfield. Many thanks to Tony and Sharon for their long-term service to our community. I wish them every good thing.
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