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The loss of Borders is sad

July 20, 2011 - Art Smith
No matter what media you consume, it’s likely the Internet has had a big impact not only on how you consume it, but also the business that provides it to you.

Sometimes it helps a small company thrive, as is the case with the thousands of upstart companies that provide exciting and new uses for devices that hook to the web.

Sometimes it can threaten and even kill long established brick-and-mortar companies.

The announcement this week that book giant Borders is calling it quits sent shockwaves through the reading community.

The rapid growth of e-readers can do nothing but hurt book sales in brick-and-mortar book stores.

Electronic readers give readers a variety of choices on which to consume books.

Most of the dedicated e-readers us a technology called e-paper to display the type. E-paper readers hold thousands of books, are viewable in direct sunlight and have very long battery lives because they use power mainly when you are turning the pages.

There are also the devices that can be used for other purposes beyond reading books. Cell phones are one, the now extremely popular tablet computers are another.

I’ve been using an Apple iPad for around 6 months. The iPad is a great device for consuming media, including books.

I’ve read several books on it using several different applications.

E-readers have both advantages and some disadvantages. You have an unlimited supply of books available at your finger tips. You can easily carry thousands of books around with you.

Readers are adaptable to your aging eyes. You can make the type as large as you want, making reading possible for people with limited vision and just easier for the rest of us.

Many reading programs will follow you from device to device. Google books, for instance, allow you to start a book on an iPad, read a few chapters on your phone and then pick up where you left off on your computer.

On the downside, most readers are expensive — and fragile — I doubt an iPad could take too many falls from a table. Spill a drink on it, and I’m fairly certain you will own nothing more than an expensive paper weight.

Even though most readers have long-lasting power, they eventually all need plugged in. A book doesn’t.

Books last a long time. The printed word has been around for a few thousand years – first copied by hand, and for the last 500 years printed on huge presses – books have incredible staying power.

We know for instance what books Thomas Jefferson read because they still exist. Will we know in 200 years what books Barack Obama had on his iPad?

Over and over I have had the e-reader versus book discussion with coworkers. “It’s just not the same,” one said. “I like the way books smell” said another.

With the loss of Borders the area will have just a few small bookstores available. Beyond the fairly limited choices available there, readers have little choice but to either download books instantly, or wait for books to be delivered. Amazon, a company built on delivering books, is already selling more ebooks than real ones.

Hundreds of years ago movable type made reading available to the masses, let’s hope the e-readers don’t limit it to those who can afford the devices needed to read them.


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