The Life, Death And Rebirth Of The Book

This article, by Hollie Shaw, originally appeared on The Financial Post on 3/14/09.

A funny thing happened as electronic readers have become more popular: So have regular books.

Print has been declared dead many times, but for aficionados of electronic readers like the Amazon Kindle, that might just be true.

"I love this thing," crowed one consumer reviewer on the CNET review board about Kindle 2, a new version of the immensely popular wireless reading device that was introduced solely to the U. S. market in late 2007. "I like the convenience…. Someone recommended a book to me at the doctor’s office–I had it in less than three minutes."

Described by its fans as the literary equivalent of Apple’s revolutionary iPod MP3 player, the Kindle’s biggest endorsement came in the form of talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, whose raves for the US$359 gadget on her show last October led to the Kindle running out of stock weeks before Christmas for the second year in a row.

Amazon also introduced an application last month allowing Kindle e-books, which are downloaded from Amazon.com,to be downloaded to an iPhone. While e-books still account for far less than 1% of the market in Canada and the U. S., their proponents are convinced electronic reading devices could become as ubiquitous as cellphones as their technology improves, as they come down in price and as the environmental and dollar costs of using paper continue to take a toll.

"We are not looking at a major shift from reading physical books to electronic books over the next 12 to 18 months," said e-commerce analyst, author and literary agent Rick Broadhead. "I think people will grow accustomed to it. The best test of the market is kids who will be introduced to books in that form. They may develop a preference to [reading on] electronic devices because that is the environment they are growing up in."

The folks at Amazon are tight-lipped as to when — if ever — the Kindle will become available in Canada, even though the retailer has operated a separate Amazon. caWeb site in this market since 2002.

"We know that our international customers are interested in Kindle and we look forward to making it available internationally," said Drew Herdener, Amazon.com spokesman, in an e-mailed response. "We have not announced any specifics."

Currently, the only dedicated e-book reading device for sale in Canada is the Sony Reader, which has two models retailing for $300 and an enhanced version with more memory that costs $400.

Since the Reader’s introduction into the Canadian market a little more than a year ago, its per-capita sales volume has outpaced that in the United States, said Candice Hayman, spokeswoman at Sony of Canada, but she could not give specific figures.

Still, the rise of e-books is not hurting Canadian book sales.

Sales have only become more robust heading into the recession, with book unit sales 6% higher in the last three months of 2008 than they were during the same time period in 2007, according to BookNet Canada, which tracks retail sales. In January, unit volumes jumped 10% year over year.

"It’s huge," said spokeswoman Morgan Cowie. "We can’t really say why it is happening, all we can see is that it is obviously the case that people are still buying books."

 

Read the rest of the story at The Financial Post.

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