Readersforum's Blog

August 22, 2011

The Future of Printed Literature: A Digital Dilemma

By Mia R. Benenate

On July 18, 2011 came the announcement that Borders, the second largest book retailer in the United States would close its doors for good following a chapter 11 filing and the liquidation of more than 200 stores on American soil. Borders, a favorite store of mine since early childhood, didn’t have the financial leverage to keep up with competitors Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
As a young girl entering a Borders store, I came to associate the brand with learning and escapism, and of course the soft lighting, aroma of coffee, and contented people browsing the shelves that were a staple in my local branch. It was a place I came to think of as “mine,” where I could go to focus intensely or lose myself entirely. Later, it became a place I would associate with music as well as literature, as I entered my teenage years and spent equal time in both sections of the store. Borders became a place that I identified as an extension of the literature I held so close to my heart, and thus, the most influential brand of my early years. 20 years after entering a Borders for the first time, I work with words as an editor, and still remember the chain fondly. And perhaps because of my professional position, it comes as no surprise that the chain is closing.

As of May of this year, Amazon’s book sales are primarily electronic, meaning that the bulk of literature purchases are through the company’s branded e-reader Kindle, versus print. Barnes & Noble recently debuted their own e-reader the Nook, and I wonder if they would have found themselves in a position similar to Borders had they not gone digital as well.

As an executive in the publishing industry, I am well aware of the daunting and often prohibitive costs associated with publishing printed material. Especially in the digital age. What remains a highlight of my reading experience — and a point of professional pride — however, is the feel of a book in my hands and the smell of freshly printed pages as I turn them. As a passionate consumer and publishing insider, I know how much sweat is put into each product that winds up on the shelves; the words and imagery within books are just the starting point.

Reading is a visceral experience, which to me is as important as the story itself. When I purchase a printed book, I own it. When I purchase an e-book, I feel like I’m borrowing someone else’s intellectual property.

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