Book sellers and publishers in Iowa are closely monitoring the impact of new electronic reading devices on the production and sale of traditional books. Nancy Simpson-Brice, founder of The Book Vault in Oskaloosa, says few of her customers are asking about “e-books” and sales of physical books haven’t fallen off.

“I think, kind of like the recession and fashion, things filter down to the Midwest and we get them about six months to a year later,” Simpson-Brice said. “So, I look for our big (e-book) interest boom to come in about a year.” She also believes more people might make the switch as e-readers come down in price. Recently, reported selling more electronic books than printed ones. Simpson-Brice says any device that encourages more people to read and learn is a good thing.

“Remember back when the Internet first came out and it was going to kill public libraries? Guess what? Public library use is increasing all over the state. So, I just think any kind of reader – whatever kind of screen…it’s just another option,” Simpson-Brice said. Jim McCoy, Sales and Marketing Director for University of Iowa Press, doesn’t believe e-readers will completely eliminate actual books. He says four-fifths of a book’s cost comes before it goes to the printer. So, he questions the sustainability of the e-book industry.

“Just coming from a business perspective, I don’t think the margins are going to allow it,” McCoy said. “You look at Amazon right now, they’re artificially subsidizing that $9.99 price point. Most of those books are published with the retail price at the same point as their hard-copy cousin. So, whether or not this is sustainable – especially once e-books begin to cannibalize print sales – is a different issue.”

Many avid readers are hesitant to switch to an e-reader because they enjoy the “smell” and “feel” of an actual book. McCoy says a number of studies have concluded that today’s first and second grade students will likely be the first generation to embrace the e-reader because they’ll be the first group to use e-books as a study tool.

McCoy and Simpson-Brice made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio program The Exchange.