Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 31, 2012

Book lovers cling to covers as print sales drop

Devices continue to change the nature of reading

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — Even though plenty of people still love to read, those who buy and sell books for a living say the days of ink and paper are fading fast.

“In general terms, I think American people aren’t as inclined to buy books today,” said Jesse Stuart Foundation Executive Director Jim Gifford, explaining the Ashland-based publishing house specializing in Appalachian authors now has 25 books, including seven titles by Jesse Stuart, available in digital form.

Gifford is quite aware of digital books and e-reader devices, although he has not personally embraced the technology. “The books I take home at night are still books,” he said with a chuckle. “We’re all creatures of habits. I like holding books and reading books. I get a lot of pleasure from it. A book is like a friend. It’s an important part of my life. I read every night.”

While digital books aren’t his preferred format, Gifford said he expects electronic reading to continue gaining popularity.

“E-books are not a fad. They are here to stay,” he said, citing the convenience and low cost for digital books, as well as school budgets with designated amounts specifically for e-books. Older people may seem most resistant to e-books, Gifford said, although that isn’t necessarily the case.

“It takes us older folks a while to figure it out. Sometimes it takes a little boost or encouragement from younger members of the family,” he said with a laugh, adding older readers typically receive an e-reader device as a gift from a child or grandchild, along with a few hands-on lessons in using the technology. “And, people who value books are people who value literacy, and therefore they value literacy in all its forms.”

As a publishing house, Gifford said the Jesse Stuart Foundation is embracing the transition. Digital books offer the advantage of immediate exchange with a customer, he said, and do not require storage space, shipping, billing and other physical considerations.

“When you sell an e-book the transfer is instantaneous,” Gifford said. “The profit margin is a bit smaller, but the overhead is also smaller.”

Diane DiLego, owner of The Paperback Exchange at 1110 Pollard Rd. in Ashland, said the book business remains healthy, although not unscathed by e-books.

“It started to get popular two years ago and Walden and Borders and all of them had their Kindles and Nooks,” DiLego said. “I said to my girls, ‘Five or six years and we’ll be out of business.’ It’s two years later and we’re still in business, but many of my customers do have e-readers ... but they are finding it’s expensive to buy the latest bestsellers and it is cheaper to buy from me.”

DiLego said she has tried e-reader devices and did not care for them herself, although she also acknowledges the nature of book buying and selling is changing.

“It’s going to happen. The print business is definitely in trouble. I’m not selling as many new books as I was last year or the year before,” DiLego said, confessing she sometimes experiences feelings of “gloom and doom” as she ponders the future of her book store. “The e-readers ... they’re going to hurt as the years go on.”

DiLego said several of her customers who have e-reader devices tell her they still prefer books in print. One lady reported her device actually broke when she dropped it onto a couch, she said, adding “I can drop a book and it won’t break.”

The book store owner said words like Kindle and Nook are subject to censorship at her shop.

“I put up the sign of the cross when someone starts talking about them and I say ‘We don’t talk about those things in my store.’”

Amanda Gilmore, community relations coordinator for the Boyd County Public Library, said demand for e-books and downloadable audio materials in recent years prompted library officials to dedicate 20 percent of the budget to digital resources.

“More and more people are requesting e-books and downloadable audio every day,” Gilmore said. “All ages are embracing it.”

Library patrons can check out one of five Nook brand E-reader devices loaded with genre specific titles, she said, adding they hope to have 20 of the devices available in the near future.

“Those are very popular. There’s usually a wait,” Gilmore said, adding the units can be checked out for up to three weeks, allowing a user to decide if they like the digital format or prefer traditional print materials.

Knowing many local residents likely received an e-reader device as a Christmas gift, Gilmore said the library’s main branch will be hosting a pair of “Your Digital Library” workshops designed to teach newcomers how to use their device and how to download materials from the library’s already impressive collection of titles. The workshops will be at noon on Jan.14 and again at 7 p.m. Jan. 16. For more information, visit the library’s website or call (606) 329-0090.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.