Nancy Heaney browses through the books at the Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in downtown Steamboat Springs. The store is offering customers Google eBooks through its website.

Photo by John F. Russell

Nancy Heaney browses through the books at the Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in downtown Steamboat Springs. The store is offering customers Google eBooks through its website.

Steamboat's Off the Beaten Path offering e-books

Steamboat shop takes on electronic literature program

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— When traveling, Denver couple Mike and LuAnn Ringenberg always seek out a local bookstore.

On Saturday morning, while staying at their second home in Steamboat Springs, they found a small nook at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore where they sifted through travel guides looking for a warm place to spend their next vacation.

“I think there’s something about the printed work,” LuAnn Ringenberg said as she flipped through a travel guide to Costa Rica.

But, if she wanted, the avid iPad user could have browsed thousands of titles on the new Google eBooks program and still buy them through Off the Beaten Path.

“I like the physical book, but sometimes I really love the e-reader,” she said. “The iPad is awesome.”

As local bookstores struggle with how to counter the onslaught of electronic media consumption, Off the Beaten Path owner Ron Krall said he thinks Google, in conjunction with the American Booksellers Association, has found the answer in Google eBooks, a program through which local bookstores can sell a plethora of e-book titles and retain a percentage of the sale.

Google eBooks launched in early December, and Off the Beaten Path is one of six independent bookstores in Colorado and about 170 nationwide participating.

“E-books are an important format for reading,” said Krall, who confessed to being a “techie.” “There’s a whole set of people for whom, for a whole bunch of reasons, reading a book on a device is what they want to do.”

For the first time, in the second fiscal quarter of 2010, online bookselling goliath Amazon reported that its e-book sales outnumbered hardcover book sales. In the fourth quarter, Amazon sold more e-books than paperbacks.

People are reading books on iPads, smart phones, laptops, and e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader.

Often, sales of e-books cut out independent bookstores, such as local booksellers Off the Beaten Path and Epilogue Book Co.

“Google eBooks is really a huge change,” Krall said. “It’s made it possible for us to carry basically every e-book that has ever been made. It makes it possible for us to offer our customers this wide variety of e-books at a competitive pricing.”

With Google eBooks, users can browse thousands of titles and buy them through Off the Beaten Path’s website. After the book is downloaded, it’s read on an application on a laptop, smart phone, iPad and some e-readers (not including the Kindle.)

Notes and bookmarks are saved in the virtual world and can be transferred among devices.

However, Krall is aware that some, like LuAnn’s husband, Mike Ringenberg, don’t like the idea of e-reading.

“I like to have something in my hand,” Mike Ringenberg said. “I do e-mail, but that’s about it. Maybe I’d read an e-reader if it was my only choice.”

For that reason, Krall knows that the independent bookstore model is one that could be around for a while, if the community wants it to be.

“A bookstore is kind of an unparalleled place to gather around literature,” Krall said. “It’s a place where people can gather and discuss, visit and share ideas.

On Saturday, Tim Ryan, of California, wistfully flipped through “Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America,” a large photographic book filled with impressive peaks and soulful skiing stories.

Ryan said he doesn’t own an e-reader but would buy one if it meant he could read medical journals on it.

But for leisure reading, he said, there is no greater pleasure than a true book.

“This could never be an e-book,” he said about the ski book. “There are no coffee table e-books.”

Krall hopes to be able to serve people like Ryan as well as those who have launched into the e-world, never to return.

“I don’t know where the balance is between these formats, but I do know there are people that like all of them,” he said. “I think what we’re trying to do and what we need to do is be able to serve all of those different types of readers.”

— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or e-mail ninglis@steamboattoday.com

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