Sunday, May 06, 2012

An eSolution for Book Sellers

I recently attended a writer’s summit where several authors predicted that physical bookstores would soon face extinction. Some also predicted that eBooks would soon replace printed books. I am more doubtful about the second prediction than I am about the first, however eBooks are gaining momentum, and unless brick and mortar book stores have an easy way to sell them, their business will surely suffer.

Why should it matter? If eBooks are quickly and cheaply obtainable online, then who cares if book stores go the way of the dinosaurs? Well, some people do care. People are already complaining about having to read some of their books on a Kindle and others on a Nook. Additionally, if several large vendors dominate the market, consumers will have less influence on prices, and possibly fewer choices of reading matter.

Book stores serve social purposes. They provide places for authors to meet their readers and autograph their books (eAutographs?). They also provide meeting places for book clubs, and their well-read personnel help readers make informed purchasing decisions.

But there is a simple solution. If eBook publishers agreed to adopt a standard file format, and if an eBook licensing clearinghouse were created, then readers would be able to buy eBooks published by Amazon for their Nooks. Independent book sellers would be able to provide eBooks for every variety of eReader. Libraries and individuals could easily lend their books, and free markets would thrive.

The alternative future, in which a few large corporations control access to books, is not an option. Taken to extremes, a literary dark age would result. An impartial clearinghouse would assure that information remain broadly accessible, and a standard eBook format, like feet and meters, miles and kilometers, would assure a level playing field.

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