Local bookstores not worried about e-book effects

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | MARCH 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Kelly Smith knows she likes books. But she’s not yet sure how she feels about their electronic cousins.

“I feel very satisfied with the experience of reading a physical book,” said Smith, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “It’s sort of a perfect experience for me already.”

But despite some locals’ hesitation, many have made the switch from hard-copy to digital. Due to the down economy and changing industry, the bookseller Borders recently filed for bankruptcy.

But several local bookstores owners, both that do and do not sell e-books, said they are not worried about the potential effect e-books could have on their sales, especially in such a literary city.

Nialle Sylvan, the owner of the Haunted Bookshop, 203 N. Linn St., said she thinks books will never be completely replaced.

Sylvan, who has owned the business for six years, said she thinks larger chain stores that sell mostly bestsellers will be more affected by e-books than her store.

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“It’s my job to find what people like and make sure it’s here when they want it,” she said. Her shop doesn’t offer e-books.

Unlike larger stores, Sylvan said she focuses on offering unique books that are harder to find.

“I know I’m spoiled because I live in a City of Literature, where people just love their books,” said Sylvan, surrounded by the approximately 40,000 books in her store.

Iowa City is one of just four UNESCO Cities of Literature in the world.

“I think the rest of the world recognizes how important books are in [Iowa City’s] culture,” said, Jeanette Pilak, the executive director for UNESCO City of Literature in Iowa City.

In 2009, e-books overtook audiobooks with sales reaching $313 million, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Smith, a librarian at the Writers’ Workshop, said though e-readers have caused some anxiety about the future of the publishing industry, they may improve publicity for authors.

“As a writer, I would not begrudge the use of technology,” said Smith, the author of several poems and journals.

And Sylvan continues to trust physical books in an age when she said electronic versions aren’t as reliable. She noted files can be lost and electronics require upgrades.

“It just isn’t quite the same when you go to give somebody a Christmas present, and they have to download it,” Sylvan said.

Another Iowa City bookstore, Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., recently teamed up with Google to make e-books available to customers.

Jan Weissmiller, the store’s owner, said any title can be ordered and read with any e-reader besides the Amazon Kindle.

“Obviously, if e-books are one thing people want to read, we want to make them available,” she said.

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