LA MESA – The latest wave in the on-going communications revolution occurred quietly this week. Google, the computing giant, entered the electronic book market.
It got me worried about La Mesa’s bookstores.
Of all the merchants who make a living offering us goods and services, it has always seemed to me that booksellers hold a special place. Along with the public library, stores like Maxwell’s House of Books, Readers Inc., and the Yellow Book Road, seemed to serve a public purpose beyond the commercial.
So Google announces it is not only going to start selling new books electronically, but many older titles would be available free. And instead of needing a special, expensive electronic reader, the Google books will be available to you on all your electronic devices – including your phone.
Surely, I thought, this must be another knell for the bricks and mortar shops. More antique shops for La Mesa Boulevard was my next thought.
But I chatted on Thursday with Craig Maxwell, Maxwell’s House of Books shop owner, and Deena While of Readers Inc. Neither was running for the hills yet.
Maxwell explained that the tactile qualities of a real book have been proving more resilient in these early years of the electronic book age, particularly at the higher end.
“When people see a real value in the book, something they want to put on their shelves and have for a lifetime, they are still buying the hardcover,’’ he said. “I heard with the new Mark Twain autobiography. . . the hardcover is outselling the electronic version many times over.’’
Maxwell says the Google entry could mean that the bricks and mortar book shops of the future may have to choose between “high end’’ rare and expensive books or stock completely with low-end, cheap paperbacks that people want but won’t be willing to pay shipping costs to receive through Internet orders.
Maxwell points out that 50 percent of his business already comes from Internet orders which he fulfills by mailing the book to the customer.
While, owner of Readers Inc. sees some glimmer of hope for the independent book stores like hers. Google’s e-book operation will allow independent book stores to sell the Google e-books to their clientele and take a cut of the profits.
Until now, e-book sales were not available to the independent stores. So to the degree that stores like While’s build a local clientele who count on her to guide them to good literature, there may be some hope.
On the other hand, e-books are relatively inexpensive and it won’t be long before virtually all school text books will move into cyberspace. When a generation of children even more tech-savvy than today’s move through our culture, will the preference Maxwell sees now for the tactile experience of a book still persist?
On the other hand, as the expense of publishing a book decreases without the printing and binding costs, more books will find their way into the electronic market. Perhaps more than ever, we’ll value those who help us find the jewels in those hills of books.