Local booksellers not all ready to yield to e-books

  • For more than 11 years Judi Brownfield has shared her love of reading at Books At Sunset in Elgin. The store owner says that times are tough lately with the advent of so many e-books and e-readers.

      For more than 11 years Judi Brownfield has shared her love of reading at Books At Sunset in Elgin. The store owner says that times are tough lately with the advent of so many e-books and e-readers. TOP: Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer; ABOVE:

  • The iPad gives you an ersatz bookshelf.

      The iPad gives you an ersatz bookshelf. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Schaumburg author J.A. Konrath's book on an iPad.

    Schaumburg author J.A. Konrath's book on an iPad.

By Lenore T. Adkins
Updated 1/14/2011 7:33 PM

Some say there's nothing like curling up with a good book.

But technology has proved otherwise.


According to Amazon.com, electronic versions of its 10 best-selling books for its Kindle e-reader were outselling hardcover and paperback books by more than 2 to 1. Moreover, Kindle books were more popular than printed versions for the top 25, 100 and 1,000 best sellers.

It's not just Amazon's Kindle that is changing things. Barnes and Noble has the Nook, Sony has the Reader and there are many more. And there are downloads and apps for laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Independent booksellers in the suburbs are dealing with the sea change in the publishing industry in different ways.

One Elgin bookstore owner says the e-reading revolution, coupled with the economic downturn, will likely force her out of business before long.

Meanwhile, a St. Charles bookseller says business continues to hum along, and a longtime Naperville bookshop owner says her place is competing with the "big guys" by selling e-books through its website, thanks to a partnership with Google.

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End of the line

Judi Brownfield owns Books At Sunset in Elgin, a cozy, eclectic, used bookstore on the west side of the city with colorful teapots popping up on the bookshelves. Brownfield has owned the store for 11 years.

Although she offers a monthly book club and activities for children at the store, she says traffic has taken a sharp decline. Last year, 40 regular customers a month would visit the store, hang out and buy books.

Today, although customers are still coming in to place special orders, she said she has only one regular customer visiting the store.

She and other booksellers have discussed how to reinvent or re-create the reading experience for the modern era. Brownfield has tried using Facebook and her website to promote the store, but they haven't helped much, and she admits she is not comfortable with technology.

She fears the economy, coupled with e-books (typically cheaper than hard-copy books) and e-readers are rendering her operation obsolete.

"I don't know how to compete with it, frankly," Brownfield said, adding that she will likely close the store this year. "Sad to say, but the neighborhood bookstore ... that kind of place may not have a place in modern life."


Wait and see

It's a different story at Town House Books in St. Charles. There, owner David Hunt says the book-buying public continues to patronize the business that has been around since 1974 and that he has not seen a huge drop in business since the advent of portable e-readers.

In fact, a steady stream of customers often goes through the place. To keep them coming back, the store offers a popular cafe and book discussion groups to stay connected to the community.

"We're fortunate enough to have a loyal clientele," Hunt said. "I really don't know how (business) has been exactly affected by e-readers -- it's hard to measure something like that."

He recognizes e-readers are a reality, but hopes they can coexist with and supplement bound books, much like audio books have done.

"It's proven there is room for both. I'm hoping there's room for both," said Hunt, who prefers turning pages. "I hope the old-fashioned book stays in existence for a while, anyway."

Keeping up

Although Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville has been around for 46 years, it stays on the cutting edge of technology and has been selling e-books for the past two years. In December, it created a partnership with eCommerce to host its website and Google, through which e-books are sold, said Becky Anderson, the store's co-owner.

To get started, all you need to do is create accounts on both the store's site and on Google. Anderson's e-books are available for every platform -- computers, smartphones and e-readers -- except the Kindle.

"You don't have to go to Barnes and Noble and Amazon. You can come to us," Anderson said. "We are competitively priced, so we feel this is a huge advantage for us to be able to compete in the e-book market."

The service costs Anderson's between $175 and $200 a month, but as more people sign up the price goes down.

Anderson, a board member of the American Booksellers Association, stays plugged into the local trends and hopes to ink a deal between the store and an e-reader provider.

Other independent bookstore owners should realize they, too, can compete with the "big guys" in the e-book world, Anderson said.

"It's a perfect example of why we need to market," she said. "It's still the wild west when it comes to e-books."


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