e-Dapting bookstore

A new sign, and a sign of the times, appeared in the window of Bloomsbury Books in September: "Read Digitally, Shop Locally."

Responding to the rapid growth of interest in e-books, booksellers in Ashland are among independent bookstores nationwide determined to adapt and coexist with the digital revolution now sweeping through publishing.

"Order e-books from Bloomsbury at the same price as Amazon.com," says the sign. Sheila Burns, co-owner with Karen Chapman since 1980, said the local shop has now partnered with Google eBookstore, offering millions of e-book titles. It is one of about 250 independent bookstores to do so nationwide.

"I wanted to be old-fashioned," Burns said. She has customers who are reading e-books and have e-readers, and "people do want to buy local," she said, but they also need good prices. "We want to be their bookstore."

Bloomsbury, at 290 E. Main St., also offers a 25 percent discount on New York Times hardcover best-sellers, book reviews on its website, bloomsburyashland.com, author readings, an in-store coffeehouse and book club meetings.

Despite competitive pressures from discount chain stores, Internet booksellers and e-books (not to mention the lasting effects of the Great Recession), Burns remains optimistic about the future.

"We have weathered everything pretty well," she said. "People really like this bookstore."

On the other side of town, Carl Hilton, owner for 11 years of Bookwagon New and Used Books in the Ashland Shopping Center, made similar changes about a year ago.

Hilton said he isn't encouraging or discouraging the buying of e-books, but those who already have Kindles, Nooks, iPads and other e-readers can access Amazon and Barnes & Noble e-book libraries through the bookwagon.com website, enabling the local business to receive a commission on sales.

"We're dedicated to the survival of the printed book," he said. Book sales support the local economy and are eco-friendly, he believes, considering their multiple reuse and eventual recyclability — and considering the toxic materials and pollution involved in manufacturing often-replaced electronic devices. Acknowledging that "we can't compete on the convenience aspect" of traveling with an e-reader, he said he competes on price and service.

Hilton is convinced that when you talk about used books, which make up 90 percent of his inventory of about 20,000 titles, he can beat the prices of online sellers such as Alibris and Amazon. He said he discounts his used paperback titles 50 percent, and with trade-in credits, customers pay as low as 15 percent of the publisher's price.

"I'm really lucky to have a way to make a living that I just love," said Hilton, who recently reduced his store size and overhead. "I think we are competitive for the long term now."

Jane Almquist and husband Dirk Price are the owners, since April 2010, of Tree House Books, which has sold new children's books on the downtown Plaza for 34 years.

Tree House is all about children, family and community. Although it has also begun marketing its books on the Internet, "For us, it's community events, ahead of online sales," Almquist said. "We just want to be the fun store."

The complete Tree House book inventory is listed online through shopdragon.com, allowing Internet shoppers anywhere to order from its unique collection of children's and young adults' titles, Almquist said. "We have a lot of books that other people don't carry."

In the back of the store is "The Secret World," where the Secret Book Club (ages 11 and older) meets. The fall club began in October with "Prophecy of Days," by local author Christy Raedeke, who will co-host the meetings.

Information on book clubs, including an online version of the Secret Book Club for kids anywhere in the world, is available at ashlandchildrensbooks.com, where you may also see pictures of the sky-blue-haired LadyJane Modern Fairy, aka Almquist.

Price said he thinks children's books, with their beautiful illustrations and tactile and special pop-out features, are unlikely to be replaced by electronic devices.

Adults, however, favor the portability, instant downloads and versatility of e-readers.

"I have reading books, audio books, music and yoga practices all in one little device. It's amazing!" said Brooks Newton, one of two Kindle owners who recently offered views about the best-selling e-book reader sold by Amazon.com.

Newton, co-owner of Hidden Springs Wellness Center, said that her Kindle has made a real difference, especially when traveling.

Unexpectedly, she found it improved her enjoyment of reading. "With my Kindle, my resistance to reading has greatly lifted," Newton said. "I enjoy reading, partly because I can make the type size bigger — which is more relaxing for my eyes — and also because I don't get overwhelmed with the size of the book."

"I don't really like the Kindle "… but I use it," said John Davis, owner of the Davis and Cline Gallery in Ashland. He acknowledges books for Kindle are "generally cheaper and you can get them instantly," if you know what you want, and scalable type and large storage capacity are advantages as well.

But maps and photographs in the history and other nonfiction books he loves to read "translate horribly on a Kindle," Davis said. With a book, "you skim back and forth easily"… you intuitively know" where everything is (illustrations, end notes, glossary, etc). But on the Kindle, "it's tedious, and too easy to lose your place."

Carl Hilton says he has had Kindle users who love a particular book, and then "they come in and get a physical copy. They just want it on their shelves."

David Chuse is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at dgchuse@gmail.com.

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