It’s the end of the word as we know it, and I feel… OK.
I was a bit miffed. And a bit embarrassed, actually. Rejected by an op shop. In the season for giving. You see, I’d turned up to one of their big stores, with four boxes of well-loved books. Among them were treasured Bryce Courtenays and Jeffery Archers, well preserved political tomes and autobiographies. They were hard to part with. Books are precious to me. But we had no more room. It was time to make way for new volumes.
But this charity had embarked on a new chapter too. ”No more books!” The man at the back of the shop told me. “We have too many. People just don’t read anymore. Not books anyway.”
What? Could that really be true? Had the Mayan calendar been misinterpreted? Was it, in fact, the end of the physical word, not world?
As I delved deep into the library of information on my iPad, I found the evidence. Kindle e-book sales have overtaken Amazon print sales.
Just two years after the launch of the Kindle, we’re reading more books on our Kindles, iPads and other e-readers than all hardcovers and paperbacks combined. To be exact, for every 100 physical books bought online, 114 e-books were purchased.
There’s been an explosion in children’s e-books, too. Little faces are increasingly mood-lit at bed time by the gentle glow of a Kindle, rather than a bedside lamp. The Association of American Publishers reported that sales had tripled this year compared to 2011 with more than 2.6 million children’s e-books sold over the first half of this year compared to 1 million in 2011.
In this new online world, the newspaper front page is under attack from the web-page. The Christmas card is being cannibalised by e-cards that cater to our time-poor lives. The paper-based newsletter is gone.
Books have been around in one form or another for more than 2,000 years and the internet could now be consigning them to the same fate as the dinosaurs in less than a generation.
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m excited for my children who won’t have to lug heavy text books. Instead of burdensome, dated science volumes, they’ll be looking at 3D turning, evolving images. They’ll turn an atom with the swipe of a finger. They can play and explore and connect with information. They are engaged. It’s a wonderful world.
Book week is still one of the most exciting times on the school calendar, according to our local librarian, but at other times lessons move beyond the Dewey Decimal System.
Kindy kids are speaking through electronic smart-boards to the astronauts in space. They’re asking divers on the Great Barrier Reef real-time questions about the fish floating past. I envy them. They have access to information like never before. They are going to be much smarter than we are.
So what is to become of books without batteries? Shops that sell them are closing down. Borders book chain became an old-fashioned indulgence. What’s next? Closing down libraries?
In the UK there was a massive revolt against the government after the announcement that 10 per cent of libraries, about 350, would be shut down to save costs. Ironically, the book-loving public turned to the root of the problem, the internet, to help solve the crisis. The hashtag #saveourlibraries was adopted to harness huge support on Twitter. So far it’s been without consequence.
Here? Breathe a sigh of relief if you are one of the 46 per cent of adults who are members at their local library. Our librarians are trail-blazers. They are responsible for keeping well ahead of the cultural change that led to the book ban.
The City of Sydney is building a new $40 million state of the art interactive library which will be open 24 hours a day.
Strangely the death of the physical word seems to be the birth of a new era of learning. Sydney libraries are experiencing a renaissance, thanks to the digital era. Visits are up and we’re logging millions of internet hours in our public spaces. It’s all about the new technology, rather than rack after rack of traditional books.
Am I mourning the death of books without batteries? Aside from a boot-load of heavy boxes I can’t get rid of, the answer, in large part, is no.
Sure, I miss the feel of a new book. It’s nice to hold something organic that doesn’t need re-charging. I can share a real book more easily. My office wall has warmth that only book-lined shelves can offer.
But on holidays this summer I’ll bet I’m not the only one leaving that beautiful new hard-back I got for Christmas behind. It won’t fit in my hand-bag like my i-Pad.
While everyone is changing and evolving and adapting, what about charities? They can’t re-sell e-books. Drop off your old iPad next time you are swinging past.
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