Saturday, March 19, 2011

RIP, Bookstores?

With news this week that Borders is closing dozens of stores, I've been thinking lately about the fate of all bookstores. Is it extreme to think that in, say, 10 years, only a handful will be left? If any? Is it possible that my four-year-old niece will reach her adulthood and not remember what it's like to browse bookstore aisles? Instead, will she browse books solely from her i-Pad (or whatever new-fangled gadget is available to her then)?

Growing up in a small town, I didn't have access to the big Barnes & Noble or Borders chains. We had a tiny bookstore sandwiched in our tiny mall, between a pet store and an Eckerd's (<--remember those?). So, anytime my family traveled to the "big city," a massive-sized chain bookstore was one of the first places we visited. And later, in my twenties, I was in awe when I discovered a Barnes & Noble that was -- TWO-STORIES HIGH! Really? Enormous, wall-to-wall books, wherever I looked, wherever I turned. I was in Book Heaven. It felt like such a treat, shopping there. Remembering that store even now, I love that being in the presence of that many books could make me so happy.

The ironic thing is, I'm a hypocrite. Looking back on the past five years, I can't even recall the last time I stepped into a bookstore. I buy all my books online now. It's convenient, quick, and I can always find precisely what I need (and, the recommendations of other "similar" books that lead me to discover new authors take the place of physical browsing). So, in a sense, I'm part of the reason these bookstores are closing.

I suppose I'm mourning the idea of a bookstore. Of just knowing they're there. That if I do feel the desire to browse actual book shelves, to smell coffee brewing, to hear piped-in classical music and sit in a big cushy chair -- that it's still available to me.

It makes me sad, knowing bookstores (and now, libraries!) are in mortal danger. It's not that books themselves are disappearing, thankfully. But the sadness comes from knowing that a world I was so familiar with is about to become so obsolete.


  1. With the popularity of eReaders on the rise, I have to admit that I've had the same thoughts as you. What if B&N goes strictly online? Ahhh! I love wandering the aisles of my bookstore and picking up titles I've never heard of.

    I don't think bookstores will entirely go out of business but I wonder if they will become more of a novelty sort of thing. Like, "Look at that bookstore! Isn't it so cute? Remember when people used to lug their books around?"

    Scary! I never want my bookstore to go away!

  2. Mrs. Dalloways, on College Street in Berkeley, will never go away. It's tiny, well-located, and focused, catering to the literary-minded. When a college prof wants some classic piece, its on a shelf at MD's, just a few blocks away. The know their stock and their market and they behave as though every customer matters--something Borders never even tried to accomplish. Borders, like Walmart, relied on part-time temps; I never saw the same person twice. All those books, and most of the time they never had what I was looking for. Borders deserved to croak. Darwin rules.

  3. The mega-marketers like Borders must have been making buying decisions based what the publishers were producing, rather than knowing their market. What else could explain the proliferation on their shelves of books that weren't selling? The small independents are leaner, closer to their customers, and not beholden to publishers. In books, as with most businesses, your market must own you, not your supplier.

  4. I love the convenience of e-readers, but nothing will ever replace the feel and smell of paper and ink. I can't bear the thought of brick and mortar bookstores going the way of the dinosaurs. Sigh :(