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Book ’em: Library benefit feels the impact of e-readers

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The Friends of the Waccamaw Library had another successful summer book sale this year, but organizers suspect they might need to start looking at other fundraising options within this decade.

“E-readers hurt us a little this year,” said Roz Breit, book sale chairwoman. “We had fewer current fiction titles. We had a lot of older titles, but some things we had been looking for never came in.”

There were still more than 10,000 books on hand, which shoppers grabbed up at bargain prices (50 cents for paperbacks and $3 for hardcovers).

A beloved annual tradition on the Waccamaw Neck for more than 20 years, the sale draws hundreds of eager book buyers every year and some people plan their vacations around it. It supports children’s programming at the library and raised $11,304 over three days last week.

That’s about $800 less than the sale netted in 2010, but Breit said a Christmas book sale the Friends introduced last year contributed to the decline in revenue. That event raised more than $2,000 and claimed some of the books that would normally have been sold at the summer sale.

But Breit attributes the receipt of fewer new releases to the rise of electronic reading tablets, such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s version, the Nook.

She expects the quality and quantity of books donated for the sale will continue to change in coming years as more people start downloading e-books.

“It’s a changing world,” she said. “I can see this particular fundraiser may continue to do as well as it’s doing for three or four more years, but we do expect that to change.”

Breit said she owns a Kindle, and even the library embraced e-readers this year, when all of Georgetown County’s branches started lending Kindles.

If Diane Hines’ reading habits are any indication, it might prove that e-books and traditional books can coexist in harmony. Hines was among the first in line on the book sale’s opening night and, instead of a book, she brought a Nook to help pass her 40-minute wait.

“I absolutely love it,” Hines, a Surfside Beach property owner, said lifting the device a little higher to show it off.

She received the gadget as a Christmas present last year, but when it comes to reading material, she doesn’t discriminate. “I still love a book,” she said. It’s a sentiment that was evidenced by the empty bags waiting at her feet. She planned to fill them with hardbacks, paperbacks and audio books just as soon as doors opened, allowing the crowd to surge in, hunting for treasures among tables covered with books.

Hines said she still buys new and used books.

When e-readers started growing in popularity, “I was a little worried about what was going to happen to books,” Hines admitted.

But as she learned more about the devices, she was won over by their advantages. She likes that e-books are sometimes less expensive than traditional books and that her tablet puts an enormous selection of books at her fingertips.

She recently read “Shanghai Girls” by Lisa See, and when she finished late at night, she wanted to start the sequel immediately.

“I wanted it right then,” she said, pounding a fist into her open palm.

So, she sat on her porch and downloaded it and was able to start reading right away.

“That’s convenience,” she said.

Convenience, though, isn’t enough to lure Betsy Nemeth away from paper and ink. She would never buy an e-reader, the Pawleys Plantation resident said. She was several spots ahead of Hines in line and came to the sale hoping to stock up on enough books to tide her over until next summer. She was looking for light, entertaining reading, she said; nothing too deep.

“I love books and I want to touch them and share them and see them lined up on the shelf,” she said.

An e-book doesn’t provide the same sensory experience.

Nemeth can only think of two advantages e-readers have over traditional books, she said, and those are the ability to increase the size of the text for readers with poor eyesight and the ability to have many books in a small space. That would be handy for readers who are traveling, she said.

There are undoubtedly plenty of people who share Nemeth’s take and will cling to their paper and ink copies, but sales figures show e-books sales have already overtaken hardback sales and continue to grow. Amazon reported in May that Kindle e-book sales in 2011 are three times what they were at the same time last year.

“I don’t think a printed book is ever going to go out of style,” Breit said. “E-books are getting more expensive, and maybe that will slow things down a little bit. We just have to wait and see.”

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