The Invention of the E-Bookseller

February 22, 2011

by Rachel Haisley

I’m a bookseller. Even my job title explains it. I sell books. Those collections of pages bound between slightly thicker pages? Yep. I think they’re awesome and my goal in life is to convince you of the same. That’s pretty much my day in a nutshell.

Life, of course, is never that easy. There must always be some new variable thrown in, at least every once in a while, just to keep me on my toes. This time it was the day TKE started selling e-books and customers started expecting me to actually know what these newfangled e-readers are. All the kids are talking about them these days. Apparently.

Challenge accepted. I got down to business, grabbed on my Harriet the Spy glasses and notebook and commenced research. When I caught anyone e-reading in waiting rooms, on airplanes, in class or on the bus, I asked them a series of basic questions. What is that shiny new thing you are holding? Is it like a book? How? Do you like it? Why or why not? How does it work? Have you ever broken it? Does it make a good coaster? And so it went. Everyone was more than happy to show off their new gadgets to me, and I began to not only discover what was going on, but I actually started to understand the pros and cons of different e-readers. The iPad emerged as a fast favorite. Its resolution was awesome, pages turned instantaneously, it could read books from nearly all e-book providers (especially Google Books, which has the largest available e-library) and it could do other things. Except it was prohibitively expensive. The Kindle was small and inexpensive, but the resolution on it reminded me of a classier version of DOS, it had a lot of buttons that seemed unnecessary and could only read e-books purchased off Amazon (which is really, really lame). The Nook seemed to be the better choice, mostly because of the price and its compatibility with Google Books (and the resolution was much nicer), but the pages took literally forever to turn. The woman next to me on a flight from Atlanta told me, “I could read a whole page in the time it takes each one to load.” One man complained about dropping his color Kindle in the pool ($300!), and I smugly remembered when I did that with a paperback and just needed to leave it over the heater for a few hours.

I decided I didn’t need an e-reader. Probably not for a long time. Even though some of them looked pretty cool, they were way out of the budget.

Then, Verizon introduced the iPhone 4 and, coincidentally, it was time for my upgrade. Suddenly, I was one of them. I bought Emma and started reading it on the small screen of my phone, prepared to totally hate the e-reading experience, but I didn’t. I actually kind of liked it. The screen didn’t feel that small once I got into the book and the pages turned with a flick of my index finger. After staying up all night e-reading (which I didn’t need to turn on my bedside light to do), I was hooked. I have my Google Books account that holds my entire e-library which I can access anywhere in the world, from any computer, iPhone, iPad, Nook, or BlackBerry. (The trick is remembering my password.) Because TKE uses Google Books, any e-book you buy from us automatically syncs up with your Google account. It’s pretty spiffy.

But here’s the deal: e-reading is not a black and white experience (pun intended): you don’t have to stop buying real books just because you can read some of them on your Nook. The paper book isn’t going anywhere for now and e-readers are fun, cool, new gadgets to explore and learn about. HOWEVER. The concept of an e-reader can really distance us from the fundamental concepts of the book. It’s really important not to lose sight of all that makes them breathe. When holding a hardback, it’s easy to visualize all the people that brought this experience to you: it’s kind of like standing in line at the farmers’ market. You can see the writer, the editor, the manufacturer, the people shipping crates of books across continents, me telling you to buy this book or so help me gawd, and the friend you’re going to give it to.

The e-reader takes a lot of that out. All of a sudden my copy of Emma isn’t the dogeared copy my grandmother bought for me. It’s just words on a screen. Granted, they’re exactly the same as the ones in my paperback copy, but they don’t feel as concrete. They feel flighty. When my battery dies, they die.

We all know how buying books and e-books off Amazon takes money out of our local economy. A growing fear among booksellers is losing this job we love. Buying sustainably is like eating sustainably. If you do it, the land around you will flourish. If not, you may save money in the short run, while others lose it for the long term.

Everyone at TKE is proud to learn about and sell e-books. We can even show you how to use them. We want to encourage everyone interested in becoming an e-reader to purchase a device that is compatible with Google Books so you can get your e-books from our website. That way, no one gets left behind. We always want to be here; matching books to our readers in whatever format those books may be.