Books at a Click



At BookExpo America — the publishing industry's annual gathering that occurred earlier this month in the heart of Manhattan — Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, discussed how he'd like to give away his next book online. He's planning to call it, appropriately, Free, and he'll provide copies to those readers willing to read it with advertisements adorning its pages. Anderson still hopes to sell the book, sans ads, through the traditional channels.

According to an article in the Arts section of The New York Times on June 4, Google and Microsoft also had significant presences at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York. A panel sponsored by was immensely popular, as was a discussion of literary blogs.

None of this technological discussion, as reporter Motoko Rich wrote, would have made John Updike all that happy. At last year's expo, the novelist "exhorted [booksellers] to 'defend your lonely forts' against a digital future of free book downloads and snippets of text."

What Rich called "the battering ram of technology" dominated this year's convention. Industry members, she noted, grappled with the techno-future "with a mixture of enthusiasm, anxiety and a whiff of desperation."

Despite this observation, the reporter said that many independent booksellers waxed philosophical about the need to move forward. "Clark Kepler, president of Kepler's Books and Magazines, an independent store in Menlo Park, Calif., visited a booth for a company that scans books and digitizes them, a technology that, on the face of it, would seem incompatible with a physical bookstore's mission.

" 'In terms of the traditional book it would not be good for us,' acknowledged Mr. Kepler, whose store closed its doors nearly two years ago because of financial problems set off in part by fierce competition from online retailers like He was able to reopen shortly afterward when venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and other community members invested in the store. 'But ultimately I think it is good for all of us as readers and seekers of knowledge to have that information available, so as a bookseller I need to rethink my position instead of saying, "I wish the world would stand still," ' he said."

At a pavilion elsewhere in the convention center, Jason Epstein, the former editorial director of Random House, and Dane Neller, founders of, provided a demonstration of their Espresso Book Machine, which can print a small paperback in a matter of minutes. " 'This could replace the entire supply chain that has been in existence since Gutenberg,' Mr. Epstein said.

"Chris Morrow, whose parents founded Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., three decades ago, said he would be installing one of the machines. …

" 'There are lots of challenges in bricks-and-mortar book selling, and I see this as a way of expanding our business,' Mr. Morrow said." 



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