Monday, August 10, 2009

That Kindle thing: musings from an independent bookseller

Patty here...

Please welcome guest blogger Fran Fuller, one of the awesome booksellers at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.

Fran is a former teacher who taught high school students English, drama, communications and various other literature-type studies. At a fork in her career path she decided to indulge her passion for books and went to work as a bookseller. She is an eclectic mystery reader and enjoys everything from cozies to humorous to historical to science fiction. She also enjoys discovering new authors.

by Fran

People ask us all the time what we think of the Kindle. "Aren't you afraid," they ask, "that it'll put you out of business?"


Really, we don't. Other factors may threaten us as a small independent specialty shop, but not the Kindle or the Sony e-Reader or any other electronic device. People made the same assumption when books on CD came out, shouting "It's the end of the written page!"

Well, no.

There's a lot that's positive about e-books, we don't deny that. If someone gave me one, I wouldn't turn it down, although I'm not inclined to buy one. They're small and portable, good for taking on trips. Books are bulky, I realize this, and they are heavy and difficult to transport. The Kindle is excellent for that.

Being able to adjust the font size would be great for these aging eyes, and not having to fight badly bound books would be a joy.

They're useful and convenient, no denying that!

And I'd love for some enterprising and intrepid person at one of the non-Kindle electronic readers to come up with a way for people to download books from our shop. It's a market-share I want us to be in on!

But there's nothing like the physical feel of a book. The pages, the covers, the ability to "accidentally" open the book to the wrong page just to be sure the hero gets through this mess. The pleasure of rifling back to find that one passage you have to read out loud to someone.

Aesthetics aside, however (and I just don't see an electronic cover being as deeply pleasing as one I can run my fingers over), there are some practical advantages to an actual paper book.

One of the touted "advantages" of an e-book is no more use of paper, thereby reducing our need for cutting down trees, which is sweet but not factual. Books can be recycled, and much of the recycled paper becomes, well, paper. For books. It's cannibalism at its finest. Books are, in their own way, organic.

There are some components in a Kindle that can never be recycled. When the new version comes out, the latest one with the most advantages, what's going to happen to the old ones? Like 8-track players, are they going to gather dust in some corner until they end up in an electronic landfill?

And while I said that e-book readers are great on trips, you don't have to recharge a book to be able to read it. Firelight will do, if necessary. And if you drop your latest Patricia Smiley paperback at the beach, you can pick it up, shake it out and keep going. What does sand do to the sensitive inner workings of a Kindle?

Speaking of dropping, if your toddler grabs your new Ridley Pearson hardback and smashes it around the house, aside from a possibly torn dust jacket and crunched edges, what's the harm? Can you say the same of your e-reader?

If you drop your Maisie Dobbs paperback in the tub, it's a mess, certainly, and you probably won't want to dry it out (although you might!). But it's easily replaceable. If you drop your Kindle in the tub? Or if someone dumps water on you -- and it -- at the beach? That's an expensive lesson.

And while having a hardback plunk down on your nose when you fall asleep while reading is startling, having your Kindle thwap you between the eyes is probably a bit more likely to bruise. Letting it slide from sleepy fingers onto a carpet probably won't hurt it much, but onto a hardwood floor or out of a loft-bed could be unpleasant.

Then too, isn't it nice to be able to loan out a book you've enjoyed? Or give it as a gift to someone? I don't know about you, but I'd be more thrilled to find a signed copy of the new Cornelia Read under my Christmas tree than a little card saying that I have a gift-card from Amazon for a Kindle download of my choice, and the new Read is a top recommendation.

Make no mistake. I love gift cards like that. But there's something personal about getting a real book.

Then too, I like autographed books. I enjoy having books inscribed to me and my partner. I smile knowing that the page I'm touching is also a page actually physically touched by a favorite author. It's special to me. I know for an absolute fact that seeing an electronic image of somebody's signature isn't going to seem as personal, as wonderful.

In recent weeks, interesting news has come up on the Kindle front, and I suspect it's got people a little concerned. When Amazon went into people's readers and deleted copies of 1984, it was scary. Almost Orwellian.

I do understand ownership rights, and I realize the books shouldn't have been sold in the first place, but the fact is, those people bought their copies of Orwell's novel in good faith. What else has been purchased in good faith through a reputable dealer that may be removed at whim? Book readers are always highly sensitive to censorship issues, and this raises some dark ones.

No bookseller I know is going to go to your house and take back your copies of the entire Paul Levine collection! It's safe in bound form. But if you've electronically downloaded it, even through a dealer that has the only access, you can't ever quite be sure it won't magically disappear from your "library" some day, removed by the seller, not random thieves.

And now I'm hearing that U.S. Patent Application No. 20090171750 has been filed. This is a patent to insert ads into your Kindle, tailored to your reading, so that you might find an ad along the margin of the book or popping up when you turn on your Kindle. So the next time you boot up your Kindle to dive back into that action scene that Jim Born wrote, you might have a cheerful ad touting Disney World floating alongside it.

I was so thrilled when they took the ads out of paperbacks back in the 60's. I'd hate to see them come back electronically. Granted, we're so used to electronic ads hovering around everything we read onscreen, maybe we won't even notice. Maybe.

But between the possibility that you could lose books you've purchased, the insertion of advertising, and the hovering awareness that someone is monitoring your reading, it seems to me the intimacy of books would be compromised.

That's why we at the shop aren't as concerned as people think we ought to be about the advent of electronic books. The relationship between author and reader is at its most pristine and authentic when it's just the reader and the book. There's an honesty and privacy to that relationship that just can't be matched.

But in the end, it all comes down to the feel of the book. The heft, the weight, the smell, the absolute joy that comes from holding a book in your hand, with all the expectations of entertainment and education and fun that is bound into them. That can't be beat!


  1. I don't think the sony e-reader can come anywhere near the pleasure of holding a book in your hand.


    Do visit:

  2. This is from a person who thought Bill Gates was crazy when he proclaimed that one day there would be a computer in every home.

    I confess. I have a Kindle and it's pretty cool. Not perfect but someday it will be. As I look at all the books overflowing my shelves that I try but fail to keep dusted, I believe that Kindle-like devices will be the wave of the future and moreover we will all survive.

  3. I don't have a Kindle yet (and probably won't, because the rumor is that Apple will come out with a tablet computer, basically a larger iTouch, and then I'm there), but I can see the appeal. Particularly if there's on in color and I can get the numerous magazines and newsletters I read on it.

    But, I'm currently at the beach (san sharks, Paul) and I'm reading Evanovich's 14 (whatever the title is, Fearless?), and I was running around this morning trying to figure out what I did with it, was it still down at the beach? In one of the bags? Up in the bedroom? FInally found it, but thank God it was a $7.99 paperback, not a $300 e-reader I'd misplaced.

  4. Great post! It's nice to read how an indie bookseller really feels about the Kindle and its kind. I don't own a Kindle or any kind of electronic reader. I'm not saying I will never own one, but for now I'm content with reading real books and listening to the occassional audio version. And I must say, there were many good reasons listed here for not having a Kindle. I have enough trouble keeping track of my cell phone and office Blackberry without worrying about another expensive electronic.

  5. Enjoyed your post and love the photo of your store and hope Indies survive all the assaults on them. On the other hand...You may know that for authors the e book boom is a huge plus, and without it several perfectly wonderful books would be idle on my shelf and unpublished due to bottomline economics and what NYC considers ENOUGH sales of a book. The author also finally gets a decent share of the profits rather than a pittance. Kindle allows far more author input and I can see my royalty statment daily rather than waiting six months. So for writers, Kindle is a great new alternative to waiting a year to get response from a publisher.
    After forty some odd books, I am sold on Kindle-lizing my books.

    rob Walker

  6. Some really great points, Fran. And from the selfish point of view of an author, being able to actually see and hold my own books in my hands lets me see that they're really real! It's not quite the same on an electronic device, is it.

  7. My agent is in love with her Kindle and I can easily understand why; it is saving her back. In the past, she'd lug as many as 30-40 manuscripts home with her every weekend and throughout the week. Now she has people email her their manuscripts and she then emails them to her Kindle. Back saved!

    I have a Kindle and I feel the same way on trips. It is not unusual for me to take a month to two months traveling in, say, Asia. I used to fill about half my suitcase with books, leaving them behind me along the way as I finished them. The Kindle has solved that problem.

    I do still, however, love real books and buy more of them than I download books to my Kindle. Sometimes I do both with the same book - as I like to have the book available as well. I think a Kindle can complement the book buying of readers.

    Whenever a new book comes out, one of my favorite signing stops is at Fran's place in Seattle. No one has ever asked me to sign their Kindle.

  8. Can't we all just get along? I'd like to think there's room in this scary new world for both electronic and ink/paper publishing.

    Have to second (third?) Mark and Sue Ann's notion. I customarily lose sunglasses, car keys, and cellphones. If you lose your Kindle, it's not just the $350. You've lost your library. Do Amazon and Sony have programs to give you free replacements? Even so, I'd have to strap the thing around my neck.

    Mark, there are no sharks in your lake? Why was I not informed!

    (All that having been said, I'm interested in learning more about putting my out-of-print backlist on sale electronically

  9. "But in the end, it all comes down to the feel of the book."

    I can't say that I have ever so much as touched a Kindle or it's kin, but I do know that paging through a book is nothing like paging through an e-book.

    When I look for a passage in an old friend, I can open to the vicinity of the page I seek--and maybe keep a thumb there if checking another passage. Far easier, to me, than searching a database--and I never know what else I'll discover along the way.

    Then there is the issue of character. Books are my friends, and all have a distinctive appearance. I mean, what fun would women be if they all wore the exact same clothes, hairstyle and makeup? ;-)

  10. I love technology. The youngsters I work with are as amazed that I'm learning Flash as they would be if I could levitate.

    But I love books. If they would go away I would miss them the same way I miss liner notes and album covers.

    And Kindle can't decorate a library.

    Still, the pull of a Kindle or Mark's hint of an Apple iBook, makes it almost inevitable I will have one sooner or later.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post and, a little late, the support your store gave Panamanian Moon.

  11. I love reading this. I don't consider it an either/or situation. "Real" books, as some call paper books, aren't going away. I have room on my shelf, and in my life, for both. Special books, keeper books, I'm likely to buy in paper; but the majority of my leisure reading comes digitally to my PDA.

    I probably won't buy a Kindle because I want to be in control of what's on my device. I'm interested in the new Sony Pocket Digital Book Reader and will check it out soon.

    Blogging today about ebooks in general at


  12. Pam in Arkansas8/10/2009 12:47 PM

    I agree that there is room for e-books and hard copy books in this world. I have a first generation Kindle and it is awesome. I love it. I love being able to click a work and have the definition pop up. I love changing the font size to accomodate my aging eyes. I love the less clutter from "to-be-read" books laying around. I love being able to turn on my Kindle and within seconds wirelessly download my next and future reads. I love how much it stores...memory aside, you can delete titles to make room for new ones, yet reclaim your deleted books with the click of the button ...for free. They are yours, deleted or not. So yes, if you lose your device you are NOT losing its content.

    That said, I love the look of bookshelves displaying titles I treasure. I love coffee table picture books or travel books. If I want a book with illustrations, I prefer them to be on hardcopy instead of in e-book form. I like being able to look at the pages to gage how far to the next chapter, or to the end of the book. I love the smell of a brand new book, as well as its feel.

    I won't give up either, but I say that the Kindle is here to stay. So far, the other devices are not comparable....they will have to match Kindle's Whispernet feature to truly compete with Kindle sales. I am just thankful I made the splurge....well worth money spent!!

    And yes, I still enjoy aimlessly walking the aisles of bookstores and never leave without something(s)begging to be taken home. I manage a lending library and would be very sad if e-books ran off libraries. They won't.

  13. Thanks, Fran, for the insight.
    If your toddler throws around one of my thrillers, at least it will build muscle tone.

  14. "...a little late, the support your store gave Panamanian Moon."

    I just realized how churlish this could sound.

    I meant my thanks was a little late, certainly not your support.

    God, I'm an idiot.

  15. Sorry so late checking in! Our internet was down, but all is happy well again, thank goodness!

    Space is a concern, Patty, I absolutely agree. I think publishers are going to have to be very careful about quality from here on out. But a quality book is a joy, whereas mind candy is easy to download, if that makes any sense.

    Mark, I hadn't even thought about the fear of losing a Kindle. What a scary thing!

    Rob, one of our top-selling authors told us that e-book sales are only just now being counted toward best-seller lists. I'm sure they will be in the future, but for now, e-book sales detract from sales ranking, which stinks.

    But you raise another issue. If an author wants the rights to his or her books back, to have them published in another form, whoever has the e-book rights will always have control of the author's work because it will never, technically, be out of print. That's a serious consideration for many authors.

    Heh, you're so right, Sheila. If it's onscreen, anyone could have published it. A physical book in your hand is still a mark of success.

  16. Hi Eric! That was a great CD you left us, I must say! It's always fun when you come in to sign.

    Actually, Paul, I think not only can we all get along, but we will. There's really room in the world for both e-books and traditionally printed books, in my opinion.

    And there's the upside to e-books -- being able to find out of print books once again. That's no small thing.

    Jeff. books are sensual, aren't they? It's hard to relinquish that for circuitry, somehow.

    David, always a pleasure to promote a fun book! And I suspect true readers will support both venues. Read it online and then, if you love the book, buy the hard copy, as Pam R. points out.

  17. Pam in A., I hadn't even thought of the impact on libraries! Gee, what else did I overlook in this post? Sheesh.

    I have such great memories of libraries, and I'd hate the idea of them all becoming computer terminals where you can rent space to read a book, or have a temporary download that will vanish on the due date. No more late fines, though, I guess.

    Ridley, I can actually imagine your kids using your books to build ladders to climb up on the counters in search of cookies. Is that a plus or a minus for actual books?

    David, you weren't churlish in the least!

  18. I love my books and I love my Kindle. (I purchased mine on the last day of school last yer as a reward for surviving the year.) Over the years I've read many types of ebooks: Gemstar/RCA, Palm, on my laptop, and ipod Touch. The Kindle is the best of the bunch so far. I love how easy it is to purchase books. For someone who buys at minimum 150 books a year, my Kindle has already paid for itself. Another fact which is good for writers, is that I'm much more willing to try out a new author at a cheaper price than to purchase a new author's hardback book. I'll still continue to purchase some paper books. Ones that I know I will want to lend out, I'll still get in paper. It's also nice that I won't have to find more space for bookshelves. The only rooms left in the house without them are the bathrooms! I won't take it to the pool, beach, or read with in the bathtub. I think that both forms of reading will be around. I can't see books going away completely and I wouldn't want them to.

  19. James O. Born8/10/2009 4:53 PM

    Great post.

    I thought about you guys this week as i was on a cruise. The last cruise I took was to Alaska and stopped in the store on our way through Seattle.

    During the cruise I saw a number of people with Kindles.

    I enjoyed my solid hardback copy of Julian Comstock : A Tale of 22nd Century America.

    Jim Born

  20. I think it's important to remember that we can discuss print books and ebooks without necessarily discussing the Kindle, as several other posters have pointed out. The Kindle is a proprietary device, and contributes to concerns about the book market being dominated by a single source. Ebooks, like print books, one hopes, will be available from a variety of sources (a number are currently available through indiebound stores, BTW) and usable on a number of reading devices.

    Thanks to the Naked Authors for inviting Fran to comment on this part of the book biz!

  21. I really do agree with all your comments.
    However, because I am a "re-reader" and cannot part with books by favorite authors, and live in a townhouse-apartment, I am running out of room.
    Some would say, part with your books. Well, I have -- gave about a thousand books away last year (combo of hardcovers and paperbacks) but still have more left than I really have room to store.
    Has that stopped me from buying books? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I still buy hardcover and paperbacks -- but I have bought a Kindle.
    The Kindle allows me to buy more books than I can physically store. I will admit I will continue to buy the actual books by certain authors. (Jayne Ann Krentz [in all her personae], Catherine Coulter, Deborah Crombie, Linda Howard, Donna Leon, Louise Penny, Ruth Rendell [her Wexford books], Anne Perry, and some others.)
    I even order books from Amazon UK for certain writers because I just can't wait until the US versinon is published -- for example, I just finished "Fatal Last Words" by Quintin Jardine -- I have all of his books featuring Robert Skinner, the Scottish cop par excellence; am surprised to see no mention of him in the Newzine. Of course, this is his 19th Skinner book (yes, I've kept them all - a mix of hardcover and paperback) and I do recommend reading them in order, although Jardine is talented enough to make each a viable stand-alone.
    The Kindle is a great supplement for books that I want to read but don't think I'll want to revisit.
    I realize this is a lengthy comment, but who else will really understand a "BookNut's" buying a Kindle?