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For years, the advent of the e-reader punished book publishers and bookstores alike

By Kellyn Brown

Too often I go to dinner with friends and within that first moment of silence or boredom, each person has their respective faces buried in their phones – checking emails, social media pages and (in my case) sports apps. This continues until someone in the group acknowledges the disconnect and chimes in: “What are we doing?” We put our phones away, some sheepishly and others reluctantly.

New gadgets and software have changed the way many of us work, socialize and are entertained. Technological advancements have essentially killed familiar items like the landline phone and compact disc and camera film. Books were also expected to die. And, for a while, it looked like they might.

For years, the advent of the e-reader punished book publishers and bookstores alike. Borders, one of the largest booksellers in the country, filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and liquidated its remaining stores, including its location in north Kalispell. Smaller stores also struggled and many predicted the end was nigh.

Instead, something else happened. Last year, 571 million paper books were sold, up from 559 million in 2014, which was better than the 501 million in 2014. Meanwhile, e-books sales have stagnated and struggled to take more than 25 percent of the market share.

To me, this is welcome news. I prefer physical books and still write in the margins and highlight passages. I’m reluctant to lend my favorite titles over fears I may never see them again, and I believe an afternoon at a bookstore or book fair is one well spent.

Unfortunately, I can become too distracted by other devices and status updates to open many of the unread titles stacked around my house. Only once I begin reading, and I flip those first few pages, that I realize what I’ve been missing. There’s an appeal to its deliberate simplicity, which is becoming harder to find.

Whether it’s through a book, many of us in the information age are trying to take a break from the deluge of information. While technology has decimated compact discs sales, and streaming services begin to do the same to paid MP3 downloads, a small part of the market has grown: vinyl album sales, which in 2001 made up about zero percent of the industry.

“Vinyl record sales increased by more than 50 percent last year,” according to the Financial Times, “and represent more than 7 percent of recording industry income. Soon, maybe even this year, vinyl records will outsell compact discs.”

In turns out, listening to an album undistracted – without the option to easily flip to the next artist or song, has become novel. And half of those buying these LPs, according MusicWatch, are under 25, an age group that would barely recognize a world without iTunes.

Another way to eliminate diversions, and which has been written about at length, is ditching your smartphone for a so-called “dumb” phone that is limited to making and receiving calls and texts. There is nothing drawing you to the device in your pocket except old-fashioned communication.

Logistically, dumbing down the small computer attached to your hip is impossible for most. It would be for me. But it’s encouraging that more people are looking for a reprise from the constant distractions in an increasingly digitized world.

It’s also encouraging that Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, just opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle, where it will sell once-doomed paper books.   

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