From the time I started school, I have enjoyed books.
I’ve never been the most extreme bibliophile out there, even now, but I know it started in the children’s section of my grade-school library. I read every book in that section, and as the years moved on, so did I. I moved up into older books and read a little of everything, but Science Fiction and Fantasy have always been a favorite.
I read fairly consistently until I left high school, and after that I only seemed to read when a high profile book came out and I purchased it (anything new from Stephen King). When I moved to the city, I joined the public library system. Constantly being extremely late returning books resulted in huge fines many, many times over, so I stopped going because of the embarrassment. That relegated my reading to those times when I would actually buy a book. The problem with that was that I didn’t have a lot of money, and I’m naturally cheap to begin.
Like someone trying to quit a bad relationship, I kept going back to the library, racking up huge late fines and then ending up staying away again. People look at me funny when I tell them I’ve read the Bible cover to cover twice, but when you realize that I had already read all of the other books I owned more times than I should have, the Bible was a book I hadn’t yet read and I had a copy on hand.
This cycle went on for quite some time, and every now and then when I felt like something was missing, I knew that I needed a fiction fix, and that brought me back to the beginning of the cycle again.
Then came smartphones. Being a bit of a techno-nerd, I had a Blackberry and Palm Pilot as soon as I could afford them. Digital copies of books were starting to become available on the internet, usually horribly formatted or poorly scanned copies, but they were ‘free’ and had no return date. That began my love of reading again.
As soon as the Kindle came out, I bought one. Of course, still being cheap, my issue with the Kindle was that I had to still buy the books I wanted to read because there weren’t a lot of freebies in the beginning and no place to borrow them. I found that I bought more books on the Kindle because they were cheaper than hard copies, but I’d still look for free or discount books wherever I could.
Fast forward a few years to now, and last year (2016) I read around 30 novels, listened to at least 40 audiobooks and wrote my third novel. I use Overdrive and Hoopla quite extensively, as well as have subscriptions to Bookbub and many other book recommendation services. The movement to digital for me has increased my reading by leaps and bounds, mainly because of the ease. I can sit at home and rent a book or audio book, and when the rental period is up – poof! it’s no longer available on my device, unless I go through the arduous task of hitting the ‘renew’ button if i’m not quite done. No late fees, no trying to make time to get to the library to get books in the first place.
What does this all mean? Personally, I still prefer to read a physical book over a Kindle or iPad screen because that’s what I grew up with, but the convenience of me being able to instantly get the books I want without having to drive through a snowstorm to get them * wins every time. What I see in the future is the decline of print books for those formats that digital serves best – almost all forms of fiction that don’t need intense visual representation. Not to say that you can’t do great picture books in digital, but sometimes paper has a quality that can’t be reproduced.
So when I hear the two sides always arguing over whether print is coming back or eBooks are declining, I think that it’s a lot more nuanced than that. I do think there will always be room for both. If anything, I think digital readership is bringing a new audience to the love of reading, which in turn is bolstering print sales as a by-product. I think that if eBooks hadn’t come along when they did, print would be hurting a lot more than they are currently.
Of course, that’s just my opinion, and as a friend of mine likes to say, ‘an opinion and a bag of nickles is only worth a bag of nickels’.
* Yes, I do realize that I am perpetuating a typical Canadian myth since there are usually only a handful of days every year that would have that type of snowstorm. My bad. I’ll go drink a beer and think about the damage I’ve done.