Digital Books, the Internet and the Future

Home_Photo_books I am both a reader and a writer. I once had an immense library but I have sold about 60% of it in the last four years. I sold some of my best books earlier this year, removing about 35-40% of my theology section. I confess that this was not easy to do but it became increasingly obvious that it was the right thing to do.

I routinely bump into someone who says, “I just bought a book on the Internet and your name was in it. Are you selling all your books for some reason?” The answer is a qualified yes. I still have a larger than average library but it is shrinking. Why?

The first reason is driven by the market and the space limitations in my home. My dear wife does not want books in our living space so I am limited to a very large basement and a nice study, which is more than enough room. But even with this space I bought too many books. I find a good purge is called for now and then. Recently I have done more than purge. I have sold about seven thousand books. The reason is that all the evidence says, “Sell now or you will get even less than you will in a few years.” This reason is not based on the recession. In fact, good books have proven to increase in value in past recessions. But times have changed! First the computer, and now the Internet.

This leads to my second reason for selling a large number of books. I find it salutary to clean and unload, not to buy and hoard. My books sometimes became idols and killing these idols has proven to be a useful exercise in faith.

A third reason for selling my books is that I have easy access to a huge library because I am an adjunct professor at Wheaton College. I can get much of what I need for three months at a time.

internet_main Perhaps the most compelling reason, and one that might mean more to some of you, is the revolution in how we all read our books. I admit that I have a Kindle and have not used it as much as I think I still might. For now I am still a paper and ink guy but I am adjusting. I write everything on a keyboard and have done this since my teen years because I was actually taught to type. (My dad bribed me to learn typing in summer school at age 16 when it was not considered masculine. He used a special trip to St. Louis to see the Braves and Cardinals play to get the job done. I thank God for him and his wisdom almost every single day!)

A recent Amazon.com statement said that they now sell 180 digital books for every 100 hardcover books. Now this figure is loaded because of what it says, and doesn’t say, but it still startles you at first glance. Digital books are the future. And older books can be found for free on the Internet. (Use Google and you will see what I mean.) All of this is driving the value of used books down, as is the easy availability of almost everything on the Internet. You can find almost any used book, and at a great price, so easily. I have all but stopped one of my favorite off-day activities: browsing and buying in used book stores all over Chicago.

What all of this means is that people will still read and access material but they will do so in new ways. The fact that you are reading this blog is proof enough. You are, young or old, working with the Internet and find it, at least in some way, extremely helpful. You can curse this massive shift in culture and how we learn or you can embrace it and use it. I am doing the latter but still with a certain amount of emotional feeling of loss for the world that I once knew and enjoyed.

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