Amy and I spent Friday-Sunday at the 36th annual Loscon science fiction convention, held this year at the LAX Marriott. Loscon tends to focus more on books than on movies or other SF media; and as usual, there were several booksellers in the dealers' room, including mail-order house Cargo Cult books. Cargo Cult is one of the few mail-order places that actually mails out a periodic circular of books and videos -- a rarity in a day when even Sears doesn't mail out a catalog any more.
The Nook e-reader that I have on order has changed my approach to such sellers. Previously, I'd browse the tables, see what SF books looked interesting (cover and interiors), and then calculate (a) how much I'd like to spend and (b) how much space a new book would take up. This time, I found myself browsing the tables to find books that I might potentially download as e-books. The nasty part of that, of course, is that I would be cutting the bookseller out of the deal.
I'm aware that as e-readers grow in popularity, this attitude will likely become a trend that will threaten the already tenuous position of independent booksellers. The folks who buy books -- a shrinking part of the population -- will gravitate toward e-books, which are sold either by the big-box websites or directly by the publisher. The same phemomenon we've seen with iPods and music sellers may play out. Sure, there will always be folks who prefer the heft, look and smell of a physical book -- just like there are those who would not dream of listening to anything except a 33 1/3 LP. But in a way, such habits are self-defeating: the folks who most treasure books likely have the most books, and thus will benefit most from those space-saving e-readers.
Other dangers loom. Print is a medium that outlasts formats. Already we are seeing a format war, with Amazon using a proprietary format for its e-books that no one else can use, and the Nook able to read various formats the Amazon Kindle can't touch. If you can read, and can open a book (or have someone open it for you), you're set, no matter the state of technology. But imagine if the crucial works of the 20th century were recorded on 5 1/2" floppies, or 8-track tapes. Think of the COWBOY BEBOP episode in which folks in the future are trying to watch a videotape -- and worse, a Beta videotape.
Despite such dire possibilities, I'm getting the Nook. I don't think I can single-handedly bring about the death of print.