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E-books arrive with a rush -- and caveats

Some say the end of the printed book is nigh. They may not be wrong, but a bit hasty. And they miss the point: What books have to tell us will always reign supreme over how we read them.

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Will that be paper or virtual?

Booksellers are finding themselves in the same boat as newspapers and magazines – whether to push the physical product or the digital one – while they navigate the roiling waters of 21st-century publishing.

Online reading is already a hit for quick reads, from Twitter and Facebook to news headlines and sports scores. But what about long-form reading – novels, biographies, college textbooks? Aren’t they better digested through the tactile experience of paper pages, bound together in a book, easy to drop, easy to share?

Two examples show which way the trend lines are running. Amazon, founded as a way to sell paper books over the Internet, now sells more books as electronic files than it does hardcover books. At the same time, slumping profits at Barnes & Noble, the largest bricks-and-mortar bookstore chain in the US, have led to it being put up for sale. Its stores are now stocked with toys, games, and other attractions to lure in foot traffic that used to browse there for books.

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