photo by Emily Wachtel
Bookstores, the ones built of brick and mortar anyway, are in serious trouble. The two big heavyweights, Barnes and Noble and Borders, are suffering and they’re struggling to survive.
Given that Amazon.com now sells close to 50% of all book sales in North America, it looks like the only place someone might see Barnes and Noble or Borders in ten years will be online, if at all.
Big name bookstores are looking less and less viable, at least, in their current incarnation.
This really isn’t news for anyone who’s been paying attention. Online bookstores, which cut overhead costs and cut book prices, and the popularity of ereaders are doing their damage. What’s shocking to me is how little emotion I feel about it.
It is sad that these stores are in trouble. I don’t want to see them go out of business, if only for the sake the employees who work there, but that’s about the extent of my emotional involvement. I believe it’s inevitable that the brick-and-mortar megabookstore will cease to exist at some point. Over the next ten years or so, they’ll exist in a very limited capacity, dotting the landscape like aging woolly mammoths.
The bookstores that will survive, I think, are those locally owned, used bookstores. They peddle in wares you can’t so easily get and they offer people the ability to browse in a more visceral way. That might be enough to keep them going.
My apathy comes not from a hatred of books. I love books. I want people to read lots of books, all the time. Society needs books and ideas and the written word to stay healthy. But, to that end, anything that gets people books is a good thing. Anything that makes the process easier and quicker is a good thing. Online bookstores mean you can find what you want quickly and get it (eventually). Ereaders cut that time even shorter.
There are changes, big changes coming to the book selling industry, but those changes are the result of more efficient systems taking their place. It’s not the death of books or the death of bookstores. It’s just the next step in their evolution.