A good friend of mine, Jarvis Slacks, as recently as yesterday made a post on his blog called The Plight of the Bookstore. It was evocative of how I feel about books and everything in regards to the medium and I wanted to further extrapolate the idea and put in a few thoughts of my own. I decided to go through his post and write further points and counterpoints. Here is what I came up with:
I read a lot. The value of books and their importance of information has always been stressed to me. The idea of having my nose in a book, or now over a Kindle, has always been an appealing one. I love losing myself in fiction, finding new knowledge in non-fiction, and getting to know my favourite author through their memoirs. In recent months, since the purchase of my Kindle, I have found myself reading more and I couldn’t be any happier about it.
Whomever they are, they say the novel is dead, and they have been saying this for a long time. I have yet to see any proof in the pudding. The medium of the novel is still relavent (maybe it shifted in the views of scholars but I admit I am ignorant of the subject), perhaps the medium is shifting as bookstores go out of business and the rise of the e-reader is becoming more prominent. We are reading differently but we are reading more – regardless of where and on what we are doing it.
So Borders is on the decline and Barnes and Noble is shifting their focus to their e-reader – The Nook – so as not to become irrelevant. Borders is closing a lot of stores and Barnes and Noble are carving out big portions of their stores to dedicate to Nook demo stations. So the bookstore is on the decline – right?
I go to the bookstore just as often as I used to and buy my books much the same way as I used to, albiet a little different. I used wander into Barnes and Noble and The Strand and make notes about which books I wanted to buy on Amazon later. Once in a while I would pick up a book I absolutely had to have then. Now: I still browse Barnes and Noble and The Strand, again once in a while buying books because Cindy (my wife) doesn’t want to read Kindle books, downloading samples of things I want to check out later on my Kindle. The medium has shifted for me but because I have everything in one convenient place I read more.
Jarvis made a point to say that bookstore’s are dying because newer generations do not assign any value to the information in books. They don’t think that they should have to pay because they got it for free in school and town libraries, on the internet, etc. I don’t think it is as cut and dry as this. My dad always told me that I did not need to buy books because I could get them all at the town library. I definitely made use of my library card and in high school I would read books based on my librarian’s recommendations but I liked owning books. I do not know where I got this impulse “to buy” from but I never viewed it as any sort of entitlement to the information or lack thereof.
I do think that newer generations definitely feel entitled to a lot of things and maybe “free information” is one of those things but as a child and a young adult who was encouraged to consume “free information” where did I get this impulse to build my own library? Is it because when I was growing up there were books in the house? Does this happen less now? That is some information that I pulled from Freakonomics and perhaps twisted to my own devices.
Back to paying for your books. Sure I could probably find pirated ebooks for my Kindle but I avocate paying the creator as I always have. I do not think that even comes from being a creator myself I just think I have a clear sense of morals when it comes to giving money to someone for what they put their time and effort into creating.
Those creators, however, will not be affected by Jarvis’s last point: bookstores need to close for the bookstore industry to be profitable. All bookstores need to make the move to the web. This is where the heartbreaking truth comes in: Bookstores are on their way out.
The music industry shifted to online sales via iTunes (perhaps not exclusively) and Tower Records and Virgin Megastores closed. There simply wasn’t any viable reason for them to remain open. Now the only place you can buy physical CDs in stores are big box chains (Best Buy, Walmart, Target, etc.).
The trend continues: the bookstore is destined to go the way of the dodo. That is the bookstore, not the book. Books will remain popular through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, etc. You’ll still be able to to pick up your favourite author’s bestseller at Target on the day it comes out but big booksellers are likely on their way out.
I foresee Borders closing altogether leaving only an online presence and I see Barnes and Noble keeping open some stores riding on the back of the success of the Nook. Long live the book and c’est la vie the bookstore.