Thursday, February 17, 2011

DOOM!! least, you would think it was doomsday, the way all the media yesterday blamed Borders' bankruptcy on digital publishing.

generally, i avoid the e-pub talk, because i am still forming my opinions.

some days i think,
"meh. so we all go digital. it happened to musicians, and they survived. sure, i no longer have stacks of pretty CD cases with covers to admire or books of lyrics to read, but honestly - i probably buy a lot more music now than i did when i had to get in my car and go somewhere to buy it. a LOT more."

other days i think,
"Nooooooooooooo!! Don't take my beautiful books!!" Then I gather up a pile of beaten-up old books from my shelves and smell them and pet them and cuddle with them... okay, not really - that you know of anyway - but you get the idea.

i do love books, but i am prepared to embrace the day (possibly in my lifetime) when 90% of books are read on computer screens. i'm ready.

but i am NOT ready to lose my bookstores!
when i first heard Borders might start closing stores, i thought it was a bummer, but i didn't think it would impact me personally. i live in a big city. surely our stores are performing well.
and i only flinched a little yesterday when i heard seven of the eleven stores in my city would be among those shut down. it wasn't until i saw MY Borders was on the list that i gasped.

now, that feels real.
suddenly, it's not just another bookstore.
it's the place i haul my laptop when i need to get out of the house and be surrounded by other people sipping coffee and staring at their computers. it's the place that makes those little sandwiches i love. it's the place that puts the YA section right in the heart of the store, like it's the most important section of all. it's the place of familiar faces behind the counters, of customers who are also my neighbors and of ladies who play Mahjong in the coffee shop at lunch time.
it's MY bookstore, and it matters to me.

i comforted myself with thoughts of, "well, now i'll just spend more time at my favorite indie bookstore" (even though it's a 40-minute drive away) and "i'll get to know the layout at B&N" (even though the closest one is a 20-minute drive away).

but guess what? not every customer will do that.
my TV station covered the story of Borders yesterday, and we sent our crew to MY Borders and had them interview customers, and you know what they said in almost every single interview?
they all said some variation of,
-well, i guess we'll shop online for books.
-too bad, but we can always download to our Nook.
-time to get a Kindle!

in a city the size of Phoenix, in a neighborhood practically in the dead-center of that city - people expect convenience. they balk at the idea of driving 20 or 40 minutes just to buy something that should be as easily accessible as a BOOK.

so while i don't know how much of Borders' demise is directly related to the growth of e-books, i do think closing its stores will push some customers INTO e-books. and that has the potential to draw more readers away from other, still thriving, bookstores. it's a cycle, feeding off itself. readers will still read. they'll just find another way to access their stories. and they'll get their coffee and play their Mahjong somewhere else.

in the end, only book lovers (and by that, i mean those of us who love the feel of a slim paper page between our fingers and the weight of a hardcover in our hands) - only BOOK lovers will chain themselves to the doors of bookstores and cry, "DOOM!"

and that is a doomsday i hope i never see.


E.J. Wesley said...

eBooks didn't force Borders into bankruptcy. A crap economy and mismanagement did. There are too many stores, and the pricing/experience isn't up to par. Amazon did more to hurt them than eBooks will ever do, simply by offering the same product at a cheaper price and not having to leave your house to get it.

eBooks can and will coexist on some level with paper books, but it's up to bookstores and publishers to figure out how.

Barnes & Noble is an example of what book sellers must do to bridge the gap between old and new. If I take my Nook to their store I get free downloads, free coffee, etc. I usually buy stuff while I'm there, too. It gets me back to their store, even when I have no real reason to go. Win/win/win (thank you Michael Scott!)

Furthermore, publishing needs to get with the times as well and make the bookstores job easier. How about offering me the electronic version of a book bundled with the physical book? 9 times out of 10, I'd go buy the physical book (and even pay a couple dollars more) if I got the eBook to boot. How about added content to physical books that you can't get in eBook?

The attitude of, "how do we 'save' paper books?" is probably going to get a lot of people in trouble financially, when they probably should be asking, "how do we facilitate reading/writing?"

Great post, EJ!

erinjade said...

EJ, i knew you would comment! :)
you're right that e-books didn't kill Borders, but i do think there's something to the fact that Borders' e-reader hasn't been successful the way B&N's Nook has. it's like you said - bookstores have to adapt. i didn't know you could get downloads and free coffee if you took your Nook to the actual store. that is genius of B&N.
i like your idea of bundling too!
hey, there's about to be a big empty building in my neighborhood. you want to come open a book shop? ;)

Lydia K said...

I would be sad if there were no bookstores, but I think they will still be around for quite a while because of some of the thing EJ said--bookstores provide more than just books, and some diehard paper-book lovers will never stop buying.
Great post!