Technology has encompassed almost every aspect of everyday life, including how people read books. A few years ago, e-books, the digital versions of books, took the world by storm and were said to bring change to the publishing industry. Like cars replaced horse and carriage, e-books would make the use of physical books almost obsolete. However, according to bookstore owners today, that is not the case.
Alexander Books, a used bookstore in Lafayette, Louisiana, stands in a new location on Johnston Street where it is frequently visited by locals and tourists.
Hardcover and paperback books line the walls as well as the many rows of bookshelves that create a paper-scented path through the store. An open, spacious seating area is provided, and chairs are waiting in small alcoves for the customers who find a book and want to start reading immediately.
In short, Alexander Books provides something e-books can’t: a comforting experience. E-books may have easy accessibility, but that alone can’t stop people’s desire for physical experiences.
According to Camille Simon, one of five new owners, the homey, used bookstore receives enough business to pay the bills and is flourishing at its new location on Johnston Street. The thought of e-books interfering with sales is only an afterthought.
“We get some customers who talk about e-books,” said Simon, “but they prefer physical copies.”
Since 2016, e-book sales have been on the decline. According to research firm NPD’s PubTrack Digital, e-book unit sales decreased by 10 percent in 2017 from 2016.
The American Association of Publishers reported e-book overall revenue declined by 4.7 percent in 2017. The numbers tell a new story about the future of books, and it’s one that shows people aren’t so consumed with technology that they would let it completely replace physical books.
Traditional bookstores were not the only ones threatened by the emergence of e-books. Comic bookstores were also in the crosshairs of e-book stores. DC comics, Marvel comics and more have all launched some form of online subscription service that allows users to read comics directly from a phone, tablet or laptop.
Teresa Moran owns Acadiana Comics and Collectibles with her husband Jerry Moran and has worked there for 34 years. According to Moran, business increased after e-books joined the scene.
“I think e-books have helped make people who wouldn’t normally be aware of comic books aware of them,” she said. “Once they’re aware of it, they want more and decide to come here.”
The store has a long hallway lined with comic posters that lead to a superhero stickered door. The sign on the door reads Comics just below a Green Lantern sticker.
Fans of comics get to reminisce as they walk down that hallway and see all their favorite heroes and villains. Beyond the door is a small squared room. The walls are covered in single issue comic books and in the center of the room are tables with boxes of neatly organized comic books.
It is a small comic haven waiting for exploration.
Authors are in a position to take advantage of both physical sales and e-book sales. Jay Shelter recently published his poetry book titled “Tales of a Broken Hearted Jay and a Healing Shelter.” According Shelter, most people who support him buy a physical copy of the book.
“Some people have said owning a physical copy of my first book feels a little more supportive than buying the cheaper e-book version,” he said. “They usually have a more personal connection when they can hold on to it.”
It is clear that e-books have not lived up to their initial hype but that does not mean they’re done. According to a Good e-Reader study, in the first four months of 2018 e-books earned $358 million. That number was down more than 3 percent from 2017 but far from saying e-books are dying out.
Physical book stores have survived the threat of technology so far by making comfort and experience irreplaceable.