My sympathy to the thousands of victims of the coronavirus.
The ripples are spreading. The Library of Congress, the New York Public Library and other libraries are shutting down for now. And librarians are debating over how long they should quarantine returned books. Bookstores may see fewer customers. South by Southwest (SXSW), the Austin festival cherished by many ebookers and others in new media, couldn’t happen.
Gloom aside, however, could ebooks benefit from the existence of the virus?
I’ll keep my expectations down, but perhaps there will be some positives, as, for example, libraries promote their virtual offerings. Let’s hope that publishers do the same and maybe even consider lowering the prices of their digital offerings (though I won’t count on it!).
Of course, the virus theoretically could be sneaky enough to imperil even some ebook fan. Like other surfaces, the screens of ebook readers, tablets and cellphones come with virus risks. CNN reports that “sales of a device-cleaning machine called PhoneSoap are soaring. PhoneSoap’s products, which kill germs on phones by bathing them in UV light, haven’t been tested against COVID-19. But revenue so far this month is about 20 times higher than in the same period last year, co-founder Dan Barnes told CNN Business on March 10.
“The company sold out of its devices in early March, but it’s currently taking pre-orders. that will ship between April 15 and May 30, according to its website.”
There’s also the risk of going to computer stores if your device breaks down or you’re shopping for a new one. My iPad Pro, my main ebook reader, stopped charging and Apple gave me a free replacement. Fine by me! But then I sat at a table close to strangers while Apple employees helped me transfer old data. The arrangement made sense for Apple since the employees could keep circulating around the table to see how their customers were doing. But the same table could also have been a virus vector.
A free related ebook from Project Gutenberg
Assuming you’re brave enough to touch your phone screen, or maybe a computer keyboard, you might also check out Your Quarantine Reader in the New York Times. Then consider the digital versions of the recommended titles—by authors ranging from Stephen King to Albert Camus.
You might also read Mary Shelley Created ‘Frankenstein,’ and Then a Pandemic in the Times. The Last Man, Shelley’s pandemic book, summed up in Wikipedia, is free via Project Gutenberg.
“Shelley saw that the disaster of a pandemic would be driven by politics,” Notre Dame Political Science Prof. Eileen Hunt Botting writes in Times. “This politics would be deeply personal yet international in scope. The spiraling health crisis would be caused by what people and their leaders had done and failed to do on the international stage—in trade, war and the interpersonal bargains, pacts and conflicts that precede them.”
Botting calls the book—set in the year 2100—“the first major post-apocalyptic novel.”
Related: Don’t worry too much about library book germs, a 2015 TeleRead article by Chris Meadows. Keep in mind that the observations there may or may not apply to the insidious Coronavirus.
Update, March 14: Apple is closing its stores except in Greater China.