I've hesitated writing about this subject, primarily because I don't have hard numbers on how many people in my area own computers. However, I cringe when I hear some authors advocate ebooks to the exclusion of print (the fabled "death of print"), and a few publishers who are toying with the idea of moving toward an ebook only format for some of their titles.
Personally, I think this is a short-sighted approach that panders to a niche market. In the long run, an entire demographic of potential readers are shut away from books.
For the record: I work in a community college library. I also live in a very rural area. Our population is roughly 93,643 for the entire county (this number comes from the 2010 census). Compare this with neighboring Guilford County which has a population of roughly 488,406 people.
Out of this population, Rockingham County has approximately 14,396 people living below the poverty level. These 14,396 people, in all probability, are not going to own an ereader or a computer. So if you choose to publish exclusively in ebooks, you are going to miss approximately 14,396 potential readers.
Let's look at neighboring Guilford County with its much higher population of 488,406, and of that number, 73,375 people are living under the poverty level. Are we excluding these 73,375 people from the opportunity to read for pleasure?
Should we gravitate toward exclusively using the ebook format for certain titles, we can add 14,396 to 73,375 and get a total of 87,771 people who will have missed an opportunity to read those titles.
When publishers and authors talk about ebooks, I don't think about cool gadgets and the wonderous cabilities of ebooks. I think about people who live under the poverty level. Having been there myself, I can attest as to where my money went: food, rent, insurance, etc. I didn't have extra money to spend on ereaders and computers. I didn't subscribe to cable because of the cost, and though cell phones weren't prevalent at that time, I can tell you now that those, as well, would have been a superfluous cost that would have been eliminated. I used the library to borrow books and when the library had a booksale, I purchased books from them. Second-hand bookstores were my favorite places to shop.
I look at studies that show how reading-comprehension can lead people out of poverty and I wonder what are we doing to ourselves when we limit certain titles exclusively to ebooks? Are we saying that the only people who get the opportunity to read are those wealthy enough to own ereaders and computers? Has the online community become so disconnected from reality that we believe that everyone, everywhere has electricty and computers?
Ebooks are wonderful for those who can afford both the equipment and the means by which to keep that equipment up-to-date; however, I think we also need to remember the people who rely on print as their only connection with reading. Otherwise, we limit them to a cycle of poverty, not just of money, but of the mind.
But!--some wit will surely propose--the people living under the poverty level are buying used books.
Yes, but those readers often remain loyal to the genres and authors they discover through second-hand books. When their circumstances change--and sometimes they do--they don't forget what it was like to have the opportunity to read books that other people discarded.
I never have.