The other day, Nicole and I were talking about how we're not particularly materialistic people.  I mean, don't get me wrong, we like to have things as much as the next person, but it's never really been our sole focus.  I would guess that part of that is due to the fact that I don't buy any Apple products, so my inherent male need for gadgets is relatively stifled.

But there was a caveat to our discussion, which I put this way "except for my book problem."

I love owning books.  I have stacks of books that I haven't even read, yet I'm always buying more.  Even worse, I have no genre boundaries; I will buy anything if I think it's good.  The amount of money I could have saved in my life time by simply going to the library is so large that I try not think about it for fear of driving myself to drink (more).  Our book shelves are bursting at the corners.

I have, however, recently taken the plunge and bought my first eReader, the Barnes and Noble Nook Color.  I've actually had my eye on it since it was released, mostly because it's in color.  I looked at it as being entertainment on the go: plays music, plays video, stores books.  Later, they upgraded it to include Android apps, which meant now it has its own e-mail app, as well as applications to do a wide variety of things (like play Angry Birds).

And I love it.  I love reading on it, which has been something of a shock to me.  I wouldn't have gotten it if I thought reading on it was going to be a problem, but I never thought I would enjoy it this much.  Not only is it easy to read, the pages seem somehow...well, more digestible, I guess is the way to put it.  Each page seems to be formatted into neat little bites, and before you know it you've read dozens of them.  And I never thought I'd say this, but not being able to visualize all the pages I still need to read is pretty great.  It can make getting through a book less daunting.

I find myself buying books on the Nook that would I consider to be expendable.  They're not books that I feel so strongly about that I need to own physical copies -- because those still exist.  As great as the Nook is, there are still certain books that need to be held in my hands.

This is kind of funny, though, given that physical copies are easily more expendable, because they can be destroyed.  Sure, a digital version can be destroyed, but there are back-ups, back-ups which are usually free to re-download.  You could go so far as to suggest that the most important books are the ones you should have digitally, but I would say that they're also the ones you need to own physical copies of, particularly if you can find nice, high quality copies (or if you own a beaten up paperback you bought with your allowance twenty years ago).

I should really own both.

I think this whole "owning both" philosophy is also the only way book stores are going to survive.

Yes, I love book stores.  I love everything about them.  I love the people that get paid very little to do a taxing job just for the joy of being around books and people who love books.  I love that no two independent book stores are the same.  I even like chain stores, if only because they're spreading the gospel of the written word (and corporate profits, but that's another blog entry entirely).

Book stores are not going to survive in the future as just book stores.  I don't think anyone can really refute that.  They're going to have to sell things other than books.  Expand in whatever you direction you want, from pop culture to education to whatever.  But a book store that just sells words on a printed page are going to die out soon, with only a few exceptions.

Those exceptions will survive on the collectors' market.  Cheap paperbacks will be the first format to die off during the eBook revolution, because the prices are the same and paperbacks are disposable.  Hardcovers are going to be harder to kill off.  The number of books I own in hardcover that I originally bought as paperbacks is insane.  But I wanted high end copies that will last a long time...and that look nice.  Say what you want, but the secondary benefit of books is that they're great for decorating.  A bookshelf packed with fantastic hardcover books is better than the fanciest furniture.

But if book stores are going to move into the collectors' market, they need to follow in the footsteps of records.  The local music store has a large selection of vinyl, records released in that format for people who collect them.  Those records also come with a code that allows the buyer to go online and buy digital copies of the songs on the record.  The buyer gets the best of both worlds: portable versions they can take anywhere, and a great collectible that with invariable have sentimental value down the line, as well.

Granted, this could be harder for books, at least in their current form.  Records are sealed in plastic, so you actually have to buy the record to get the code.  That seems like something books could work around, though, particularly if it only applies to hardcovers.

I hate the fact that book stores are dying, and it doesn't make me feel any better that I'm playing a small part in that.  And that's why I'm hoping they'll start to evolve so they don't go the way of the malt shop.