"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx
Groucho was right about a book being man's best friend—but then again, he never got to experience an e-book reader.
No doubt technology is changing things at breakneck speeds, and one sector where this is eminently true is conventional publishing. News delivery and magazine fare have shifted from arriving at your doorstep every morning to updating perpetually in your Web browser. And now, the traditional book is ceding ground to ever-cheapening gadgets.
No, for bookworms especially, it's no time to be a Luddite.
E-book readers found widespread acceptance for the first time upon release of Amazon's Kindle. Since its debut in November 2007, it's enjoyed the exponential benefits of advancing tech, meaning plummeting price points coinciding with increased capacity and screen quality. Today, the unit retails for $139 and holds 3,500 books—all while weighing less than a single paperback.
Readers can download titles at about half the price as those on the store shelves, and wirelessly at that (in range of Wi-Fi; a 3G cellular version is $50 more).
The marketplace has eaten it up. Kindle sales, while not publicly revealed, are booming. According to one data leak, 2.4 million were sold in 2009, and another 8 million in 2010.
Then there's the iPad. Fifteen million units were sold in 2010, its inaugural year. Another 40 million are projected for 2011.
Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble sells its own variety, the Nook. Borders too, despite bankruptcy proceedings, is pushing their own called Kobo.
The numbers speak for themselves. But does any of this have to do with the environment?
Like any other mega-sized industry—and this one tips the scales at $25 billion annually in the U.S.—the answer is a resounding yes. Doubly so for one undergoing such a disruptive transformation.
The debate has intensified as of late about the greenness of traditional books as compared to their newfangled digital counterparts. Statistics are bandied about freely, but a consensus is emerging: For dedicated readers, e-book devices are the ecological way to go.
One study reveals that the production of the Kindle produces 168 kg of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, while the average printed book produces about 8. This means one must read 22 books on their Kindle to offset the environmental costs of its manufacture.
As many point out, however, bound books require fossil fuels to be transported, occupy energy-intensive retail stores and warehouses, and sap the carbon dioxide-sequestering capabilities of the tree forest from which they spring.
In turn, old-schoolers will note that e-book readers get their ongoing power from dirty fuels themselves. While that's true, it's encouraging to know how power-thrifty the Kindle is: It lasts two weeks on a single charge.
Like the technology itself, the debate will continue to evolve. But I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge an environmentally friendly alternative to buying books—borrowing them at your local library. And here in Cinnaminson, we have one that's more than serviceable.
Among the vast societal benefits of a library, its highest selling point might be its price tag—free. Sure, there's tax dollars and late fees, but the feeling of taking a book home without taking out your wallet? Nothing short of priceless.