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I witnessed a rare sight a few weeks ago while on the train. There was a woman reading the New York Times which, by itself, is not so uncommon. What was atypical was that the woman reading it appeared to be in her early twenties. Many people still read the paper version of the The Gray Lady, but those reading it usually have graying hair. It’s simply a generational thing.
We now live in the age of digital media. Just as the horse carriage gave way to the automobile, and the typewriter to the personal computer, we are now in the midst of what appears to be, perhaps, the slow and eventual demise of the book. Ride any commuter train and look around. People are reading but they’re often reading Kindles, they’re reading Nooks, and they’re reading iPads. Fewer and fewer people are reading books in traditional form.
In Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal lies Posman’s Books. In the transient and frenetic human movement that makes up GCT lies this literary refuge where commuters can take a few of their precious moments and browse countless books, new and old, fact or fiction. It’s a visceral experience to the avid reader; being inundated with a landscape of book covers, different colors, different photos. There is a sensory component to the experience of searching and deciding which book to purchase next. Then there is the tactile aspect of actually reading the book; feeling the book in one’s hands, physically turning its pages, using a bookmark that represents a keepsake while once traveling abroad. These all compose the totality of the reading experience. Yet, most of these attributes are lost when you’re reading a book on a device such as the Kindle. The iPad captures the reading experience better than most devices. With its color, page-turning simulation, and one’s very own bookcase case, the leap from traditional book to digital device is coming at a lower cost to the consumer. What one loses in transition is slowly being diminished.
You can see these changes rather subtly at any bookstore. I often see people typing into their phones just after glancing at myriad book titles. I can only surmise that they are tallying a list of which books to purchase next for their respective e-readers or, for that matter, from Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com. In a way, bookstores are becoming browsing venues for consumers while the actual product-purchase is a transaction that takes place in a different venue, often online, and often cheaper. It is a challenging road ahead for small bookstores.
So how will this process play out? If you live in New York, just look around. Cars are ubiquitous, the only place you can really find a horse carriage is in Central Park, and the typewriter is a long lost relic of the past. Are books doomed to the same fate? Maybe, maybe not. E-reading devices may not necessarily improve the reading experience but they clearly provide readers with a new channel of distribution in which to consume the product, and that matters significantly. There was a time when most people listened to music on a Sony Walkman. You’re now about as likely to find a Walkman as you are to find a typewriter – except on EBay. And speaking of things that may be headed for extinction, there is the aforementioned New York Times newspaper. But that’s a topic for another time.
John Brigantino is a graduate student in the Master of Science in Business Management & Leadership Program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. He enjoys writing, non-fiction books, traveling and the many cultural and leisure experiences Manhattan has to offer.