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.

They probably should have published electronically… Pic: AFP

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.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDST.

Most commented


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    • David C says:

      05:44am | 08/01/13

      a) good news for the trees
      b) try the Benjamin Andrew Footpath Library next time

    • SAm says:

      05:50am | 08/01/13

      E-books have a place, but I find it more easy on the eye to read a traditional book. Ive recently been reading ebooks and just purchased some good old fashioned paper books, and wonder why did I ever leave them?
      Ill keep things i might need at the drop of a hat on my phone, but for reading for pleasure, a book it is

    • Mayday says:

      07:41am | 08/01/13

      I’m with you SAm the sensory feel of a book is far more superior than the cold bland feel of an e-book.

      Both will have their place in our lives but I won’t be getting rid of my books, I’m hoping that like vinyl records books will resurge and keep their place in history.

    • Traxster says:

      11:13am | 08/01/13

      Indeed, and there is nothing to compare with a quiet 30 minute stroll through my favourite book store, flipping thru this one , checking the blurb on that one,
      reading the review for the other…....
      Yes I have a Kindle and I love it, But…...

    • Geronimo says:

      06:31am | 08/01/13

      If a visitor was to arrive from the Planet Zombo tomorrow and took 5 seconds to scan the surrounding Troppo Bloggosphere, it would be impossible to convince our Extraterrestrial Guest that books or any other instrument of educational reference had ever existed on Planet Earth at all.

    • Gordon says:

      01:46pm | 08/01/13

      indeed, once the Zomonese had counted up and laughed at the 11 (and counting) currently used mis-spellings of misorgernerst (sic) they would concluded that literacy had been skipped entirely.

    • Al says:

      07:42am | 08/01/13

      I see a number of issues contributing to this (particularly in Australia).
      - The ability to locate much cheaper e-version books online when compared to the actual physical version on bookshop shelves.
      - The whole storage space and weight issues related to a physical book.
      However, at this point there will still be a market for specialised, old or out of print books that are not available as an e-book, and there are many of them. Many also with no plans to make them publicly available as e-books.
      I think the book fair they have in Canberra a few times a year is a good indicator of the current market, where you can pick up a collection of 10 books for around $10, even if only 1 or 2 of those books is what you want to read its still cheaper than buying from a store.
      As for the charities, it is simply because they don’t sell and take up relatively large spaces to store when compared to other things. Charity stores are about making money for the charity to use, not to try and sell every second hand thing that someone brings in. They will reject numerous things (including furniture that is a little battered, very old computers that don’t have programs available anymore, typewriters etc) if they don’t think they will be able to sell it in a reasonable timeframe.

    • Tom says:

      08:50am | 08/01/13

      Try the Brotherhood of St Laurence Books Online service in Melbourne. They accepted my books after de-cluttering with alacrity. Even came and picked them up!

    • Rose says:

      09:17am | 08/01/13

      I’ll continue to read books and I’ll continue to source most of them from my local library. Free, space saving and enjoyable.

    • subotic says:

      09:40am | 08/01/13

      I’m currently working on an App to make eReaders smell like old books.

      Also working on an App to turn the top right hand corner of eReaders over.

      Wasted talent, I know…..

    • LJ Dots says:

      10:40am | 08/01/13

      *Also working on an App to turn the top right hand corner of eReaders over*

      sorry subby, it’s already been invented. $1.99 pliers from the local hardware store gives my eReader the authentic feel of a curled right hand top corner page. Good luck with the fragrance app though, I’d buy it.

    • subotic says:

      11:06am | 08/01/13

      “Whiff de la Guttenberg” sitting on the Bunser Burner as we speak….

    • PsychoHyena says:

      02:43pm | 08/01/13

      @Subotic, sorry, the Kindle app already allows you to tap in the top right-hand corner to dog-ear it.

    • marley says:

      10:24am | 08/01/13

      I’ve been trying to downsize my bookshelves - a torturous job, I must say - and I’ll never get rid of some of my better hardcover books.  E-readers simply cannot replace some of the great old tomes with their full colour photos and art work, and their marvellous feel and smell.

      That said, there’s so much available in e-book form, including a lot of free books, that I don’t think I’ll ever give up my e-reader either.  It’s handy for long haul flights, and for getting a free copy of Dickens or Wodehouse or a really cheap copy of George Megalogenis’ latest book - and it’s great for the more ephemeral stuff that I want to read and get rid of. 

      It’s a bit sad, though, taking boxes of books to the local tip….

    • St. Michael says:

      11:05am | 08/01/13

      Not if those boxes of books contain the collected works of Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon, or Danielle Steel.  Just because it was written on a page doesn’t mean it necessarily deserves posterity.

    • LJ Dots says:

      11:28am | 08/01/13

      I know the feeling marley, but don’t take them to the tip though, at least not yet - try the free listings at Gumtree and give someone else a chance to enjoy the collection before they go. (Disclaimer - see St Michael below)

      If, after a month or two and there are no responses, you can go to the tip with a clear conscience.

    • marley says:

      11:45am | 08/01/13

      @St Michael - please, do me the courtesy of assuming I’m at least semi-literate. smile

      I’m actually getting rid of a lot of classic novels and several shelves of travel guides and history books.  It’s surprisingly hard to let some of them go…My PG Wodehouse collection is staying, though….

    • St. Michael says:

      12:10pm | 08/01/13

      @ marley: I was just trying to get you out of your funk.  Or is it get your funk back? I don’t know, young people these days and their strange aphorisms… wink

    • marley says:

      12:30pm | 08/01/13

      @St. Michael - thanks for the kind thought - actually, what with the heat I am in a bit of a funk at the moment.  I think it’s my mojo I need back, though.  I guess that dates me, doesn’t it?

    • Colin says:

      12:48pm | 08/01/13

      Marley and St. Michael having a public one-upmanship discussion on the supposed depth of their individual literary IQs…

      “Oh but, daaahling; PG Wodehouse is my absolute fave…”

      “Yes, maybe pet, but you just haven’t LIVED until you’ve read the complete musings of Ovid…”

      Gosh but you’re BOTH so delightfully literate, bookish, cultured, well-read, and erudite! Why, we’re all so HUMBLED by your presence… tongue laugh

    • St. Michael says:

      01:18pm | 08/01/13

      Sorry, Colin, but who’s Ovid? Only pretentious trolling wankers like yourself read him. raspberry raspberry

    • Colin says:

      02:35pm | 08/01/13

      @ St. Michael

      “Sorry, Colin, but who’s Ovid? Only pretentious trolling wankers like yourself read him…”

      Zap! pow! Zing! Take THAT!!

      Genius, pure genius. Did you think that up by yourself? + 1000 Internets to you! grin

    • marley says:

      02:37pm | 08/01/13

      @Colin - having a liking for Wodehouse is being pretentious?  Wodehouse is to serious literature as a champagne cocktail is to a great single malt. 

      I don’t claim to any literary pretensions (though I certainly draw the line at Dan Brown et al).  I happen to thoroughly enjoy the escapades of Bertie, Jeeves, Psmith, Uncle Fred and all the gang at Blandings Castle (especially the Empress).  That hardly makes me a literary snob;  it just makes me someone who likes sparking writing and deadpan British humour.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      03:00pm | 08/01/13

      @marley, I know the feeling, the wife and I have built up a large collection of books over the years, 3 bookshelves and a multitude of boxes. The e-reader comes in handy for transporting a large library around and takes up less physical space. This clears up space for the truly brilliant books.

      On a side-note, I came across one of the best book collections ever, the brother of a friend has a 3 meter high, 12 meter long bookshelf containing numerous leather-bound tomes ranging from Asimov to Dickens to Sun Tzu (the entirety of the Art of War volumes) to Ptolemy and even a number of high-value copies of the Bible (hand-written, leather-binding, etc).

    • Colin says:

      03:03pm | 08/01/13

      @ marley

      “@Colin - having a liking for Wodehouse is being pretentious?”

      No, not as such. But discussing literature online in the manner which St.Michael hams it up is totally and utterly, over-the-top pretentiousness in its, “I discuss literature, and I am so clearly particularly smart when I do so oh-so subtly so that I can make out that I am erudite, cultured and autodidactic…which, of course, means that whatever I say on a blog MUST be Absolutely Correct…”

      Though you also give that barrow a nudge with your, “Wodehouse is to serious literature as a champagne cocktail is to a great single malt…”

      P.s: READING Wodehouse may not make you a snob, but Wodehouse was a snob; the whole premise of those stories is in support of the British Class System.

    • iansand says:

      03:12pm | 08/01/13

      Colin has just demonstrated that he has no idea who P G Wodehouse is.

    • St. Michael says:

      04:07pm | 08/01/13

      @ Colin: Sorry you don’t like the way I express myself, Colin.

      Actually, let me take that back.  I’m not sorry you don’t like how I express myself—because on reflection I realise I don’t actually give a toss about your opinions of my writing at all.  That’s because frankly your opinion doesn’t matter.  You’ve said little of substance since I’ve been reading your posts and you’re not amenable to argument. 

      If you’d like to be conspicuously mocking because it massages your self-esteem or lets you feel more like a member of the human race, then that’s your psychological issue to deal with.  Doesn’t mean that much to me.  I’ll talk how I like to talk, whether you think it’s appropriate or not, whether you think its hammy or not, and absent Hunch censors, there ain’t jack you can do about it.  So go have a Bex and a lie down, I promise you’ll feel much better afterwards.

    • St. Michael says:

      04:09pm | 08/01/13

      “Genius, pure genius. Did you think that up by yourself? + 1000 Internets to you!”

      Well, yes, I did think it up myself.  As opposed to your contributions in the field of poetry on this site.

    • marley says:

      06:03pm | 08/01/13

      I’m not sure, given the current problems with the IT here, whether this comment will be redundant, but I’m damned if I’m going to let Colin describe Wodehouse as a snobbish supporter of the British class system.

      Either Colin hasn’t actually read his books and short stories,  or he didn’t “get” them.  Wodehouse wrote stories that reflected the social system of his day, but when you think about the central point for many of his “young men about town” - the Drones Club - you might reasonably assume that he’s not exactly kowtowing to the upper classes. 

      He says, of one of his upper class characters (and I’m paraphrasing here), that if brains were made of silk, this lad’s would barely provide a canary with a decent set of knickers, You can hardly argue that that, or the fact that many of his stories revolve around working class folk getting the likes of Bertie out of trouble, is evidence of some sort of class prejudice.  It is, in fact, quite the opposite.

    • Colin says:

      10:36am | 08/01/13

      Ah, the New Generation of non-readers is just the same Old Generation who were forced to read.

      But now they can say things like, “I’m very vizzzual; I prefer to do my research pictorially…” (That is, “I Can’t read”) or, “I just DON’T know how anyone can be bothered with books anymore; my iThingummy stores everything I need” (That is, 211 pictures of my cat, a collection of messages containing words of two syllables or less, and an ‘Angry Birds’ game)

      Face it; the idiots who didn’t (or couldn’t) read before are still here but are much more difficult to spot amongst all the other people with gadgets.

    • St. Michael says:

      11:27am | 08/01/13

      @ Kellie:

      “Among them were treasured Bryce Courtenays and Jeffery Archers, well preserved political tomes and autobiographies.”

      That’s why they wouldn’t take them.  You might treasure those books, but at the end of the day they’re your second choice.  You decided to ditch them in favour of, I don’t know, maybe a copy of “Boned” by Anonymous, or to be more generous, perhaps an Ernest Hemingway or two.

      Did you ever stop to think you’re not alone in that?

      Every person over the age about forty has at least one Bryce Courtenay and/or Jeffrey Archer in their bookshelf that they never sit down and read more than once.  Archer in particular doesn’t age well.  It’s been, what, a good 20-30 years since “First Among Equals” from Jeffrey Archer or “Kane and Abel”, and the test of time seems to be proving that Archer’s writing has nothing enduring about it.  Consequently every secondhand shop in the country has stacks of him, along with a battered Frank McCourt or two or one of the lesser Bernard Cornwell “Sharpe’s X” novels.  Oh, and at least a couple of Wilbur Smiths, though I respect him for his sheer production rate and the fact he’s unashamedly a patriotic African.  And that’s before you get to “nonfiction” and feast your eyes on the towering stacks of Ann Rule “true” crime “books” that they all seem to have.

      For the most part, people don’t want books from secondhand shops because secondhand shops are society’s rubbish bin.  We don’t give good stuff to charity; as a society we give stuff we didn’t like or don’t want.  Books are perhaps the best barometer of that, because whilst you wouldn’t donate clothes with shit-stains on it, people will happily foist their old unloved books on an unsuspecting charity.

      Go into any secondhand book shop and look at the slowly-growing piles of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and ask the long-suffering secondhand book store owner how those books are selling.  Similarly, the entire Twilight “saga” is often available from the one place at one time, in multiple copies.  Or for a counterexample, ask anywhere but a secondhand shop on a uni campus for a copy of a Hemingway novel and see how far you get (the uni shop will have them because if a uni student is assigned Hemingway as part of a lit course they’ll ditch the book as soon as the course is over.)

      “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?”

      Unlikely.  If anything, because of the Internet, readership is splintering: you can better customise your reading tastes with the net than you ever could before.  What will happen—eventually—is that the Internet will eliminate the oligopoly middlemen that big publishing currently amounts to and always has been.  People will go direct to authors for their books, and authors will start getting paid properly for the books they write.

    • subotic says:

      01:21pm | 08/01/13

      Every person over the age about forty has at least one Bryce Courtenay and/or Jeffrey Archer in their bookshelf that they never sit down and read more than once.

      No I don’t.

      Did you ever stop to think you’re not alone in that?

      All. The. Bloody. Time.

    • St. Michael says:

      02:27pm | 08/01/13

      ‘pologies, it should’ve read “over the mental age of forty.” raspberry raspberry

    • subotic says:

      03:25pm | 08/01/13

      Kent Brockman: Excuse me, did you see the six o’clock news?

      Comic Book Guy: No, I get my news from the internet, like a normal person under seventy. Farewell, dinosaur.

    • subotic doesn't include quotes - where's marley wh says:

      03:57pm | 08/01/13

      “Leela: If everyone is done being stupid…
      Fry: I had more, but go ahead. ”

    • marley says:

      06:13pm | 08/01/13

      @subotic - I resemble that remark - and you can quote me.

    • Jaqui says:

      02:12pm | 08/01/13

      “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.”

      Please don’t, charities have asked people multiple times not to dump junk on them, it is a horrific problem!

    • Daniella says:

      03:02pm | 08/01/13

      Kellie, I’ll take them!

    • ek31 says:

      04:32pm | 08/01/13

      I would just like to point out that kindle that kindle has been around for longer than 2 years. I think I got my first 1 in early 2009 and it wasn’t a 1st generation.
      I first got one because at the time I was reading rather large books and carrying them around with me was giving me shoulder pain. So during the work week I would read e-book on my kindle and then on the weekends I would find out where I was up to and read my ‘tree-books’

    • Ladyjane says:

      04:51pm | 08/01/13

      Try donating your pre-loved books to your local hospital. It’s what I do and they are always very grateful. It’s not a place that people normally think of, but patients, especially long-term patients, appreciate the books.

    • 104 degrees celsius says:

      05:14pm | 08/01/13

      in Sydney Australia, January 8 2013 did feel exactly like the end of the world !
      Or was Jan 7 2013 The end of the world when Average Australian Temperature was +40.33 degrees celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit ??

    • stephen says:

      05:33pm | 08/01/13

      Paper books have footnotes, and index, and often they will include references for further reading ; perhaps electronic books have these too, but my books are annotated.
      Whilst I read I make notes about what I felt about a point at a particular point in the story.
      The books I have, then, are like small worlds, and have a ‘history’ of not only the story at hand but my own perceptions of that story - a story of ‘facts’ or fiction, either way - so that I can, if I want, recollect my memories of the first time that character or fact crossed my mind.
      (I get 2 stories then for the price of one.)

      This is the world that the iPad cannot match.


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