“Browsing bookshops then buying online is a ‘genteel form of shoplifting'”, this according to David Nicholls, in an article in The Guardian from some weeks ago. He was speaking at the London Book Fair and bringing attention to the disappearance of bookstores, on how their numbers are dwindling more and more in neighbourhoods as the convenience and cost-effectiveness of e-reading has taken on. A bit of a harsh statement, I thought, feeling guilty. In my defence, my browsing more often than not, always results in buying – then in the further browsing of the books which I go on to download on my Kindle.
Even as a big offender when it comes to this form of ‘shoplifting’, I will choose paper over electronic in a heartbeat. I love bookstores and libraries – always have. I can browse for hours in bookstores, wishing it were possible to be locked up in them with copious amounts of coffee and food, and just me and the books. Nothing thrills me more than the purchase of a new book in paper form – but the reality is that I cannot buy more books in paper form anymore – not as many as I would like to anyway. I no longer have the space in my house and the near-nomadic life I have does not lend itself to moving with boxes filled with books. So I have reluctantly fallen in love with my Kindle and the ease with which I can have my personal library in my hand without ever having to worry about leaving all those books that I buy behind.
Even with the convenience of e-books, there is a certain pleasure to be found in browsing. It is in seeing a title that immediately pulls; in running your fingers over the cover; and in skimming to a random page to determine whether the writing draws as much as the appearance, well that is something that Amazon and its click-of-a-mouse ease of purchasing cannot offer, but it is what we will eventually be left with. That thought leaves me feeling sad. I really wish there could be a common ground found between publishers and writers; between the behemoth-sized bookstores and the smaller independent booksellers, to allow for book lovers to indulge their passion without the guilt of knowing that they are not only pirating writers’ incomes but are also contributing to the demise of bookstores.