Independent bookstore owners are tracking the arrival of e-books the way geophysicists and meteorologists in Pacific nations spent the weekend watching for tsunamis from the earthquake in Chile. Their fear is that cheap electronic titles could wash away sales of traditional books.
"I am afraid of the e-book," says Allison Platt, who owns Bookie's Paperbacks & More on the Southwest Side.
"Be very afraid," echoes Leslie McLean, who works at the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka.
E-books generally require a big upfront investment to buy the hardware, but after that it's cheaper to buy titles electronically than in hardcover. Amazon, for example, prices many titles at $9.99 for its Kindle reader. Independent bookstores can't discount hardcover editions that steeply.
Augie Aleksy, who owns Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, says he is worried the world will return to the days when only the wealthy can afford new hardcover books.
But independent bookstore owners already survive through such things as customer service and bringing in authors for programs, and that might be enough to let them survive the wave of e-books, just as island nations made it through the weekend without much tsunami devastation. Readers - even those who own e-book equipment - like to meet authors and talk to them about their work.
"It's kind of hard to sign a Kindle," Aleksy says.