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Librarian in Residence: Are E-books the death of the paper book?

By Jessica Green on September 16, 2014


Jessica Green is a book addict and library card holder since the age of 3. She’s a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library and currently the Apartment613 Librarian-in-Residence, sharing a compendium of literary thoughts and tips.

I recall my genetics professor making the claim years ago that we would all be working in paperless offices. Fast forward to now, and paper isn’t dead. The debate between paper and digital lives on, and remains very interesting for libraries. I did discuss e-books at OPL in a previous post but I thought it was time to revisit the e-books debate and take a look at the larger picture.

E-books remain the current darlings of the publishing industry and according to some reports, e-book sales increased this year from 2013, and the hot sellers were Adult Non-fiction, Young Adult and Juvenile titles. This is quite interesting as for many years, Adult Fiction was the only type of book available in digital format, and little else was available. So although e-books sales did increase, about 75% of all book sales are still physical books, and there are indications that the e-book market is flat lining overall.

Another factor in this is the slowdown of tablet and e-reader sales. Recent articles all mention the increase in PC sales and the drop in tablet sales. Peter Yared sums it up quite nicely with the following, “People that want tablets have them, and there’s just no need to upgrade because they more than adequately perform their assigned tasks.” This is quite interesting as little as a year ago, tablets were so hot and e-readers were old news, since they only read books. Tablets were better as you can read books, but also check email and surf the web and so on. Mind you, if you have ever tried to read a whole novel on your phone, you’re a better person than me.

So where does this leave e-books? This is the big question. You may have heard about Amazon’s big battle this summer with publisher Hachette where the resolution may impact how people purchase e-books or even what titles remain available to be purchased from publishers. Digital Rights Management (DRM)is another problem, and although some publishers like TOR/Forge and even sites like Comixology (one of the big sites for comic books) dropped DRM on their titles, who is to say you can’t lose your purchased books?

Licensing fees and arrangements with libraries are also problematic. Some publishers treat their e-books like they are physical ones and libraries have to re-order titles frequently, others are quite expensive, and as you may well know, nothing is available to borrow from libraries for the Kindle series of e-readers in Canada (save the Kindle Fire).

So, what does it all mean?? I think e-books are here to stay with more titles being added all the time. But there is still a place for physical books and it will be a long time before one can claim paper is dead.

Three Quick Links

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler: A neat memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household where Hartzler begins to question everything his parents hold dear. I hope he writes a sequel.

For Today I am a Boy by Kim Hu: The story of a transgendered son in a Chinese family living in small town Ontario. I feel like this might get some awards.

Snowpiercer 2 :The Explorers by Benjamin Legrande: I recommend the film wholeheartedly and I am waiting for volume one to read in comic form. This is the second volume to Snowpiercer. Bleak and brutal, this is a must read.