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Gadget Watch, Part 2: Tamblyn's Sony Reader experiment

BookNet Canada CEO Michael Tamblyn spoke at a Saturday morning seminar on “Digitization and the Future of Canadian Bookselling,” which focused on e-readers. In order to assess the viability of the medium, Tamblyn himself tried a 30-day no-paper diet in mid-April.

He found that while the software posed problems and the Sony Reader he used was initially hard to hold, he soon succumbed to the e-charms. He could carry about 80 books with him at once, the Reader wasn’t hard on the eyes because he could increase the font size, and the machine’s battery life was excellent. “There were lots of things I liked about the e-book experience … and all of the annoyances are solvable by engineering,” Tamblyn concluded, reminding the 40-odd attendees, “these are first-generation devices.”

But Tamblyn said he still sees a future for bookstores. He advised celebrating the books themselves, using the physical environment and face-to-face communications and recommendations offered in bookstores. “It’s about taking the role not of a stock-keeper, but a curator,” he said.

Tamblyn also sparked a minor controversy among the attendees when he suggested abandoning the practice of ordering books for individual customers. To that, one bookseller said he caters to a readership of women 35 and over who want to special-order because they don’t want to use the Internet; other members of the audience reacted with incredulity, saying that women ages 35 to 65 are the group most likely to shop online.

(On another note, someone else is apparently trying out the Sony Reader this weekend. Marketing research consultant Dan Aronchick passed his around in a seminar he conducted on Friday, and one of the attendees managed to walk off with it.)