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Bookcase seldom holds books in age of e-reader

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 6:40 p.m.
Expedit bookcases from IKEA Credit: Johan Ryden
Billy bookcases from IKEA. Credit: IKEA
Radio announcer Bob Studebaker has handmade shelves in the living room of his home, Saturday, February 16th, 2013. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Radio announcer Bob Studebaker has handmade shelves beside the couch in the living room of his home, Saturday, February 16th, 2013. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Radio announcer Bob Studebaker has handmade shelves in the living room of his home, Saturday, February 16th, 2013. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

E-readers and iTunes are spelling out a difference in the use of shelving.

While an impressive bookcase once was a household desire for any collector of volumes or albums, they now have faded in their level of interest. The need to store books and albums has been cut by digital products that can hold hundreds of volumes or thousands of songs.

That decline has led to the elimination of the home office collection at Levin Furniture, says Chris Pelcher, senior vice president for merchandising.

“There just isn't any interest in it,” he says of shelves and cabinet systems. “Now, all you have to do is provide a desk for someone's iPad.”

Jennifer Stockdale from the IKEA outlet in Robinson says that company, which always has been a major source for shelving units for homes and dorms, says the chain still is selling many of them, maybe even more now than in the recent past.

But the uses have changed.

“Customers are using bookcases for different purposes such as organizing and displaying objects,” she says. “In fact, the depth of the shelves has changed on our Billy bookcase to 19 inches in order to accommodate art books and storage boxes. Our Expedit bookcases can be used as a bookcase or a room divider.”

On course, the use of shelving units depends largely on the owners.

Bob Studebaker, an announcer and jazz programmer for WESA-FM (90.5 FM), has amassed a collection of books and albums that demands he find a place for them.

Studebaker, 57, says he is “just one of those old-fashioned folks” and always is looking for ways to add more to his Forest Hills home. He still has to make room for the vinyl albums that predate his CDs.

Wood craftsmen Gary Feroce and Ron Virtes agree interest in shelves is fading because of the changing nature of storage.

Virtes, owner of East Hills Cabinet in North Versailles, says middle-age homeowners or older still have many books and are interested in reading that way. Younger people do not have such collections.

“It's like working in two different societies,” Virtes says. “It is a big change in demographics.”

Similarly, Feroce from J&J Wood Products in Lower Burrell says his most recent shelving customer is reflective of the nature of the business: He was 80 and said he would be coming back for more.

Not too long ago, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh asked him to install floor-to-ceiling shelves on all four walls of a 30-foot-by-20-foot room.

“But he was a teacher with plenty of books,” he says.

The more common customer these days, he says, is looking for an entertainment unit or a “shelf in the kitchen to hold cookbooks.”

Matt Mahon, owner of MJM Remodeling from Shaler, says some customers don't want to replace the paper book, so there still is a need for those who have them.

But he does far more work on kitchen cabinets and entertainment centers than any kind of shelf.

Large TVs sometimes are one form of electronic media that call for a shelf, he says.

But other forms of electronic media do the opposite and are steadily gaining in use, giving even more reason for changing roles in shelving, IKEAs Stockdale says. She cites a report by Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers, a California investment firm, that deals greatly in electronics and media.

That report, using figures from the Pew Resarch Center, says ownership of e-readers in the United States has risen from 2 percent of the population three years ago to 29 percent at the beginning of 2012. It also says ownership if iPads, which can provide books and music, soared in two years from zero to more than 65 million worldwide.

It also says 79 percent of people in this nation are connected to the Internet.

“I do think that people have fewer books in their home,” she says. “There's no need for a set of encyclopaedias anymore, and many students are opting to download their textbooks onto e-readers or tablets.”

But she believes shelves will remain one of the firm's big products because of varied use. The Expedit shelves use cubes that “can be used to store books, prized possessions, storage boxes and baskets and they make a great charging station for small gadgets such as tablets and phones.”

The bookshelf is not dead, Stockdale says.

“Bookcases are still a beautiful way to tie a room together and a great way to show off the objects that you love,” she says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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