Ebook or Not eBook? That is the Question

As the annual year-end holiday season draws near, gift givers everywhere are faced with the inevitable dilemma: what gifts to give the loved ones in their lives. Books, of course, have long stood as a gift giver’s go-to choice. What better way to curl up by the fireplace, chestnuts a-roasting, than with your new festive jammies on and freshly cracked tome in hand? And has there ever been a more perfectly shaped object for gift wrapping than the book?

It’s common knowledge that retail indie booksellers hold out all year long for the holiday feast, often finding themselves in the black at year’s end for the first time in their annual sales revenue cycles. A Publisher’s Weekly brief discerns booksellers’ three best sales weeks of 2014 falling in December, specifically the week before Christmas: “Sales that week jumped 30.5% over the previous seven days, and units topped out at 29.6 million” (Milliot). When you couple the nostalgia of annual gift-giving traditions with the recent consumer trend in shopping local, indie bookstores had reason to celebrate in 2015. For both bibliophiles and the publishing industry, holiday gift giving truly marks the most wonderful time of the year.

However, when the digital age arrived it brought complications to traditional gifting. Iconoclast web seller Amazon released the Kindle in 2007 and shook up the books-as-gifts paradigm. First generation Kindles flew off the shelves their debut holiday season, even at a staggering $400 price tag. Handheld devices have come a long way since then and have undergone several waves of evolution, now capable of housing a personal library the size of a soccer stadium. Prices for the most advanced ereaders are now typically under $100, bestseller books are always less expensive in digital medium than print, and many ebooks are literally given away free of charge. For almost ten years, ebooks have been an option at holiday time, yet they just haven’t really caught on.

While digital music and video markets have grown exponentially in recent years, ebooks have bucked the trend, especially during the emotionally charged holiday sales season. According to Publisher’s Weekly, “Preliminary figures from the Association of American Publishers found that sales of ebooks for trade publishers fell 14% in 2015 compared to 2014 and accounted for 20% of overall trade book revenue, down from 23% in 2014” (Milliot). Diagnostics haven’t pinpointed an exact cause for the sharp reversal of the ebook, yet there is reason to cite a relatively new phenomenon: digital fatigue.

When publishers attempt to rationalize the wild sales success of adult coloring books throughout 2015, they turn to psychology. Pop psychologists have identified an emerging need for us to unplug and disconnect from our perpetual ecommunications and the expectation that we constantly remain within reach of email, text, and media. We spend hours, every day throughout the year, fixed on electronic monitors and handheld computer screens. We have digital fatigue, and our DNA longs for tactile stimuli and extended-duration focus. The desire for an old-timey retreat into a good read makes perfect sense, in my book.

The holidays are a time to alleviate digital fatigue, to unplug, to allow yourself the nostalgic, tactile pleasure of kicking back with a traditional book. When you consider a thoughtful holiday gift for the people you care about in your life, you seek out a meaningful token representative of the connection between the two of you. You browse the shelves of your local independent bookseller searching for the perfect title to deliver an investment in thought and solitude, an intimacy unmatched through any other medium. Books as gifts provide a treasure trove of wisdom, entertainment, and escape. When you consider what to give this year, go traditional: print books make great gifts.

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