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My dad, it seems, is never more than an arm’s length away from a stack of books. He’ll pick one, start it, then grab another and another, cracking those before adding them to the pile. He’s the sort of voracious reader who always emerges from Barnes & Noble with a history book from the clearance section (no matter how obscure). Four dollars or $40, hardback or paper—if it finds its way into my father’s intellectual orbit and warrants a look, it’ll be promptly dispatched.

Last Christmas, a friendly debate waged between me and my mother over whether to buy her book-hoarding husband a Kindle, Amazon’s popular wireless reading device. It didn’t last long.

I, for one, couldn’t see him sprawled on the couch staring at a 6-inch screen (let alone the 9.7-inch version). So that was that. And for the time being, I’ll be sticking with ink on paper, too.

But it may not be long before we bookish types are in the minority. Though Amazon won’t get into specifics, CEO Jeff Bezos has said that Kindle owners now number in the “millions.” He also reported that Amazon sells six Kindle books for every 10 of their conventional counterparts.

Whether or not the iPad will cut into some of that business is open to debate. Some believe the two can coexist indefinitely; others say they’re headed for a collision sooner than later. In the meantime, a recent cover story in Time magazine has the publishing industry losing 14,000 jobs over the next four years, with printing and related support shrinking by 44,000.

J.F. PirroAll of this may well strike an ominous chord with bibliophiles. Yet, in some cases, the Web has actually helped more than it’s hurt. MLT senior writer J.F. Pirro discovered as much while working on his stories for “Printed Matters,” which spotlights the people behind the unheralded local institutions that continue to rely on this outmoded—if far from extinct—information-delivery “technology” for their livelihoods. Pirro learned that, since the mid-’90s, book-specific Internet search engines have altered the industry, essentially democratizing reading.

“Pre-Internet, you might see or hear about a book of interest. But if it wasn’t at your public library, then what?” Wynnewood’s John Van Horne, director of the Library Company of Philadelphia, told Pirro. “You’d be left with, ‘Gee, that sounds interesting.’ Now, in seconds, you can find the cheapest copy in the world and put your hands on something that was previously unavailable.”

That’s good news for harried researchers and rare book dealers looking for buyers—but not so good for everyday booksellers, who need our business more than ever. For an online directory of independent bookstores in the area, click here.

See you in the aisles.
 

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