With the proliferation of e-readers and development of e-ink technologies, there are those who have already begun to put chisel to headstone of traditional reading.
On the other hand, technology is making access to books easier, such as in the form of online libraries that let readers browse and reserve books online, which are then delivered home.
EasyLib in Bangalore is one such establishment, marrying a "real" library of almost 22,000 titles with an online model. Proprietor Vanishree Mahesh used her own comfort with browsing online as an yardstick to build EasyLib.
"I built the website and software myself. The bricks-and-mortar version and the online version both pretty much launched on the same day." That was July 2001, and today EasyLib has over 2,000 members.
FriendsofBooks on the other hand is an exclusively online library, run from Delhi/the National Capital Region, though they do deliver in other cities.
Founder Arti Jain was fascinated by the network of public libraries in the US, a stark contrast to the situation in India. She and co-founder Manish Kumar decided to address this problem with FriendsOfBooks.
"Members have a virtual bookshelf on our website and we deliver these books two at a time to their home/office," explains Jain. FriendsOfBooks offers a book suggestion service to help users pick titles.
It has over 2,000 members, mostly in the NCR. Membership comprises a monthly fee, with a limitation on the number of books people are allowed to borrow.
"In our pricing, cost of an individual book becomes irrelevant," says Jain. Neither is there a time limit for readers to return books.
This is in stark contrast to EasyLib's membership model. Users maintain a deposit from which a reading fee of 10 per cent of the value of the book is deducted.
"What is the motivation for a library to buy an expensive book," asks Vanishree, "if there is a flat rate?" EasyLib members are obliged to run up a reading fee of Rs 100per month. "I've always hated it when a librarian has said, 'You can borrow only two books at a time," Vanishree adds.
Somembers may borrow as many books at a time as they want. Delivery/pick-up incurs a charge of Rs 15. Books are usually issued for 14 days, extensible to a month.
"Thisis to encourage serious reading," says Vanishree. A library, she feels, only works for an avid reader.
Of course, it pays to be in a big city if one is considering membership to an Internet-enabledlibrary. Librarywala.com's services are available in Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune, and they are exclusively online.
JustBooks is a traditional library with outlets in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune, and it also has a Web-based interface and a delivery service within 7km of its branches.
FriendsOfBooks,on the other hand, delivers to a surprisingly large number of locations around India. If a member does not fall in the list of delivery cities and is willing to take on the costs of transporting books, FriendsOfBooks is happy to serve.
RadhaH S, who has been a member of EasyLib for almost two years, loves the convenience of ordering any time. "Getting a book is very easy when I know what I want to read," she says, but adds: "Browsing and borrowing from a 'real' library is definitely better, especially for children."
Chitra Char, member of both EasyLib and JustBooks, echoes her: "[In a real library]they can browse and choose books of new authors they have not heard of. Plus it gives them a chance to see the cover, read a few pages before they can borrow."
Ratherthan putting books out of fashion, technology appears to be making access easier. "I am a reader and also a techie," says Vanishree, "but I'm really not a fan of reading the new-age way."
She feels that formats such as the Kindle will soon give birth to new business models where it might be possible for users to borrow books in e-formatsas well.