Recently, I got an inquiry from a mother and son about the latest in a popular series that we consistently carry. They sounded sure of the release date, and for a moment, I was stymied. I hadn't seen a new installment, which I would have expected to arrive in large quantities, and the book wasn't listed in our database. A few minutes' research provided the explanation: The new book, as well as several after it, would only be available in e-book form.
I won't single out this series because I don't know all the factors that went into the decision, and because I suspect it's not an isolated case. But I will say this: In my view, e-books are an option. For some people, they're a great option, and if this technology makes reading more fun or more convenient or more private or sexier, then they serve a worthwhile purpose. But at least at this juncture, I don't think they should be the only option.
That's not just because I work for a brick-and-mortar bookstore. My store does sell e-books through its website, as do many stores like it, and a fair number of customers have been excited to hear that buying e-books and supporting us don't have to be mutually exclusive. Nor is my view based purely in physical-book sentimentality. I do personally love the smell of old books and the fact that my copy of Little Men bears an inscription to my grandmother on her seventh birthday, but in most cases, the words (and sometimes the pictures) are what I'm sentimental about. They're certainly what I'm most eager to pass along to other readers.
When a book is available only as an e-book, we severely limit who gets to read it, and to my mind, that's the real problem. Maybe e-reading devices will be affordable for everybody someday, but right now, they're not. Some libraries lend out e-readers; many don't, and though I don't have the statistics, I would wager a guess that it's happening less in economically disadvantaged areas. The series in question is popular with reluctant readers, which often translates to struggling readers. Shouldn't we make it as easy as possible for these kids to read these stories?