Without her packed bookshelf, freshman Alena Schuessler wouldn’t feel at home in her dorm room. Each book nestled there holds “sentimental significance,” and she remembers the day she got every one.
For Schuessler, books are more than reading material. The smell of the pages, the design on the cover and the texture of the paper are all part of her “romantic idea” of reading.
Schuessler’s face wore a different expression, though, when she discovered that printed books are apparently losing the battle for consumers to e-books. Over the last three months of 2010, e-book downloads outsold paperback books for the first time on Amazon, the online retailer announced. Over the entire year, Amazon sold 115 e-books for every 100 paperbacks.
“It’s the direction our culture is headed,” Schuessler said. “I accept that. It’s just kind of sad.”
On the other hand, Natalia Mueller couldn’t help smiling when she discovered e-books’ increasing popularity. Mueller, a junior at NW, noticed many students beginning to use e-readers after Christmas break. Nationwide, millions of e-readers were purchased during the holiday season.
Mueller purchased her e-reader last fall, and she uses it for assignments, pleasure reading and devotionals.
“Surprisingly, it’s not hard to read on,” Mueller said. “It really looks like paper. It’s like I’m reading a [printed] book.” Mueller said her experience reading one of her favorite book series remained unchanged when she switched from printed versions to e-books.
For Schuessler, however, the difference is night and day.
“I really, really like the tactile experience with a book. You don’t get that with an e-reader,” she said. “I enjoy turning pages more than clicking buttons.”
In opposition to Mueller, Schuessler described progressing through a book as “the comforting heft in your hands that shifts slowly and gradually as you coax the weight from one hand to another.”
Some faculty have begun experimenting with e-readers in their classrooms. Sociology professor Dr. Scott Monsma refers to lecture notes on his e-reader because he “can wander around the classroom.”
Others, such as English professor Dr. Westerholm, would rather do without e-books. Westerholm called the devices “detrimental” to English classes because they “imply one-way exchange” when English students need to develop relationships with the texts they are studying.
“For me,” Westerholm said, “reading a great novel on an e-reader would be unsatisfactory because reading those works is a conversation, not just collecting data. I need paper to take part in that conversation.”
“I’ve been reading and loving books for half a century,” he said, lounging beside his floor-to-ceiling bookshelf overflowing with worn novels. “I’ve established a relationship with them. I can’t imagine doing that with electrons.”
Anita Vogel, Senior Reference Librarian, prefers printed books but has kept her mind open.
“I like the feel of books, but down the road, I could change my mind,” Vogel said. “It’s kind of neat to think that you can have a whole library in one little device.”
While many librarians fear that e-readers will obsolve libraries, Vogel doesn’t see any cause for alarm. She predicted that libraries may supply patrons with e-readers, similar to how they provide computer access today.
However, “the printed page still carries an allure that cannot easily be met by an electronic device,” Tim Schlack, Director of the Library said.
“Buttons, screens and batteries all wear out no matter how well you treat the device,” Schlak said. “Put a book in a safe place with fairly reasonable conditions and it will still be readable 100 years from now. I doubt whether the same can be said for a Kindle and other reader devices.”
Newsweek reported that by 2014, sales of e-books will equal those of printed books. Monsma predicted that someday, printed books could become a niche market.