Here’s a new library that is springing forth from fertile farmland in my town. A metal skeleton glinting in the late afternoon sunshine. The building is cavernous and will soon house many books.
Or will it?
Digital books now make up 8% of fiction book sales, up from 0.003% only five years ago. Nonfiction is not far behind. Sales are expected to triple in 2010. A thousand page book can be downloaded faster than you can boot up your computer. The Amazon Kindle eReader now has company in the burgeoning eBook market: Barnes and Noble, Sony, Apple and at least three other smaller companies have eReaders coming out within six months. Amazon has pioneered the free Kindle software app for the iPhone and Ipod Touch to sell more books, and later this month, is giving free downloads of Kindle for PCs, a new software to read Amazon Kindle books on any netbook or PC anywhere, anytime. Comic books are making debuts on eReaders in early 2010, and several larger newspapers have not only invited eSubscribers, but some have even stopped printing on paper at all. The Wall Street Journal (now with as many online readers as hard copy, by the way) has documented the slowly fading booksellers, noting that Borders and Barnes & Noble are shifting to eBook sales to boost sagging profits; the article mentions the eventual demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores, even these giants.
Amazon, and other e-Reader companies, have developed new technology that allows one to “borrow” an eBook. It can be borrowed, for instance from an online library, or can be rented, like a movie. It deletes itself and becomes unreadable after a finite time. Word has it that in 2010 Apple is going to be blowing out eBook sales and rentals, just like it does for movies, on iTunes.
A shiny new library, constructed by a town that placed it on the ballot several times in the past years, each time to fail under the taxpayer's votes. Those that wanted the library pushed very hard for it in 2009, and finally, by a very narrow margin (and a less than direct and truthful ballot question that confused voters), it nudged through.
All hail the new library. Like building a Roman coliseum just when the lions have eaten the final gladiator.