The Death of the Bookstore – and the book

The Death of the Bookstore – and the book

I was in my not-so-local Barnes&Nobles this evening and it was all I could do not to cry (and we men are not supposed to cry).

This bookstore used to be wall-to-wall books. Now, most of the store is devoted to Kids’ stuff and games. All the books are squashed into a bare quarter of the space.

It’s like the purpose of the bookstore is now a place for people to bring kids to shop for stuff. Sorta Kids-Are-Us with some books thrown in.

To put it another way, it was an awful lot like Borders looked in the last three months or so before it went out of business.

Now I think that eBooks are a great idea and we’ll see a big migration toward them (and the next level that proceeds it) but I can’t browse in any useful way. And I find the notion of being blinker-directed in the “people who bought this book also bought” sort of way is limiting and ultimately will adversely affect sales. I don’t buy books because they’re just like all the others I have at home &mash; if I wanted to do that, I’d just re-read the ones I have &mdash I buy a book because it’s new in some way and grabs me.

Neither Barnes&Noble nor amazon.com provide the on-line experience similar to that one gets by being able to go into a bookstore and just browse. (That’s not to say that that isn’t fixable, by the way.)

But with this “new look,” Barnes&Noble is adopting the same failed strategy that killed Borders and it just makes my heart break. It seems like their way of doing things is to embrace a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What’s this going to mean to authors? And publishers? It means that, until there’s a replacement for that ability to go in and browse, sales are going to plummet.

What’s this mean for America? Well, let me ask another question that I think is related and even more critical — what’s this mean for literacy in our country?

I hope that the management in Barnes&Nobles changes their direction before it’s too late.

11 Replies to “The Death of the Bookstore – and the book”

  1. I know what you mean. If not the bookstore when I was younger, it was my favorite thing to go to the library and just browse. I have always been a reader and re-reader of my favorite books. There are certain books that I wanted a copy of just so that any time the mood struck me I could go grab it from the shelf and read to my heart’s content. Some books I’ve been known to compare as chocolate to the soul…yes I know rather a female perspective. Long story short there is and will always be a certain feeling of smelling the pages of the book and feeling the paper under one’s fingers as you turn page after page…almost a zen moment if you will. Out of a lack of room for bookshelves, I have recently been gifted with a nook. The benefits of this lovely electronic device mean I can carry around over 300 of my favorite books with me along with a series or more that I haven’t read yet,. My pockets and my purse thank the nook because they are no longer straining at the seams to carry around whatever novel peaked my interest that day. But for me, it is with nostalgia that I periodically look at my bookshelf while making mental notes as to which books I must read in hard copy, at least at this time. All the inconveniences of reading a book outside like the wind blowing your pages or trying to make your bookmark fly away are solved with the ereader. However, never other than my fingers being too cold to turn pages did I ever have to worry about an operating temperature (yes, I was outside reading and my ereader decided to “freeze” because the temp was too low). Not to mention, a book doesn’t have to be charged!!! Amazon and other sites that let you read the equivalent of the back cover or inner jacket are great, In the bookstore or the library, I may have stumbled upon a treasure of a book that no one much may have cared for but for me that would never or rarely make it to the “people who bought this book also bought” selection. Times are changing but who knows if better or worse.

  2. Todd: This is so sad and so spot on! Our B&N in the burbs of Marietta, GA is the same. I know that people are migrating to ebooks, and I’m not that unhappy about it; but, there is just something about the feel of a book in my hands that I love. I have some old volumes (ca. 1900) that even have a leather smell that is missing from all of my new volumes. This always reminds me of the classic Star Trek where the lawyer defending Kirk has a rather long part about real books versus using the computer – way ahead of its time. My biggest problem is where to have my favorite authors “sign” their books at DragonCon! I solved it by having an insert and a permanent marker (you signed it last year), but it just isn’t the same as a signed volume.

  3. I agree that the loss of the book stores is tragic. You can ask Steve about the fact that when we go past a bookstore at the mall I have to go in just to take a deep breath. Nothing will ever replace the smell of a new book and the emotions that go with it. I somewhat disagree about the inability to browse like in a book store. I have read books that I would never have looked twice at in a book store. I prefer to browse online and find them as the kindle is more limiting than my computer, so far. Not that I would ever give up e-ink for a tablet.
    I have ‘liked’ a page on facebook that gives a deal of the day type of link. The books I get on that for 99 cents are mostly books I wouldn’t have looked at in the store or library but the price is right. Several of them have led me to explore a new genre or author. I have purchased an entire series at full price after reading one chapter of the book I bought on sale.
    Losing book stores is sad because of all the memories I have built there. I would compare it to the transition from horses to cars. I’m sure people missed the companionship and ,if you are like me, the smell but the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. Horses are not gone from our lives they are just more of a part time indulgence than a full time conveyance.
    So… now I’ll go off onto another tangent and get back to work…

  4. It’s pretty much the same in the UK. We always used to have loads of little bookshops owned by independant retailers and those weird tiny little secondhand bookshops that are sooooo much larger on the inside! (Terry Pratchetts theory of LSpace comes to mind!) But lately, these small shops are dying out and the large retailers are installing coffee bars and selling Ereaders and other non-book related items. Even our larger retailers such as WHSmiths seem to have cut down on the book space and are pushing their own Ereaders now. I have vowed to NEVER buy anything readable unless it comes in its proper form.. I love the smell of books and regularly re-read my favourite authors works.. it’s like visiting an old friend and the thought of reading something with the background smell of warm electronics just doesn’t work for me. Plus I have far too many things I have to charge up nowadays and in a power cut, all you need to amuse yourself is a candle and a good book!

  5. I live near the King of Prussia Mall Complex, which supposedly is the largest shopping area in the northeastern US. As I was doing my Christmas shopping, I realized that this complex did not have even one bookstore in it (there used to be a large Borders there). How sad.

    Having said that, though, I love my Kindle. I never thought I would like it better than real books, but like Trisha Jordan says above, there is something really wonderful about being able to carry so many books with you in your purse. And being of a certain age, it’s also nice to be able to enlarge the print ….

  6. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the Jasper FForde series of Thursday Next books, but, at one point in that series the main character walks into a bookstore to find books only in a small back corner while the rest of the store was anything but books. I believe the book was “Something Rotten” which came out in 2004, seemingly slightly ahead of it’s time.

  7. Our B&N has increased the size of the toy and game area (and it’s also increased the area devoted to the Nook — and that kiosk always seems to be busy), but it still has a significant area devoted to books. Perhaps because of the demos here? the Ocala FL area is home to many retirement communities.

  8. My agent a few years ago was talking about the problem and said, “Sometimes I feel like we’re trying to sell buggy whips–like five years after the auto was invented.”

    Being a life-long lover of books, it is sad to watch them go. But I fear that with the economic forces, they will be gone soon. Maybe not in five years, but if you could see into the future ten or twenty, I think it would surprise us.

    So I published my latest novel as an enhanced book, as an e-book, as an audio book–and proudly in a hardcover, too.

  9. On a plus side, e-publishing is making it easier for self-published authors to get their books into readers’ hands.

  10. Unfortunately this isn’t something that’s just started to happen. The “death” of the bookstore started a while back. Our local Waterstones introduced a small section of children’s toys a decade ago, which has over the years expanded to take over an entire floor of the store. Add to that the coffee shop (which has also progressively got larger) and our local “bookstore” has transformed into nothing more than a place to buy toys for kids, and hang out and have coffee.
    Books only occupy one floor of what used to be a three floor bookstore, and then only the upper floor. The reduced size of the sections means there is very little to choose from.
    It’s really sad.
    I can remember how it used to be when it was just a bookstore, and you could stroll through three floors of nothing but books, browse author after author from a massive selection. The diversity was wonderful, and I have to say it encouraged people to read books by other authors.
    Now? Just popular books only, and if they happen to have recently been made into a movie then they will get a whole section to themselves.
    I don’t bother going there anymore.
    eBooks may be the way of the future, and I have no issue with that. I have a Kindle, and I use it. But so far I only have books from authors I know, and then they tend to be books I’ve replaced due to the physical ones wearing out. I hate the way they market eBooks, just because a load of teenagers have read Twilight doesn’t mean I want to. I really wish they would stop shoving that one in my face when I try to browse what’s actually available (which in the UK, isn’t that much for the Kindle).
    It is symptomatic of a larger issue – the fact that less people are reading these days. I have to say, I agree with your worry about literacy. I’m not sure what the answer is, schools need to play a bigger role – and parents as well. Reading should be encouraged (regardless of format); the joy of discovering a story that way should not be lost.

  11. I have mixed feelings about the death of bookstores. As a former English teacher and lifelong bookaholic, I mourn the passing of the bookstore and the ever-increasing trend of non-print resources. It distressed me over the final years of my teaching career that my students no longer used the solid information available in the reference books in the school library but the far less reliable Internet sources. I had already seen the trend years back when my students came to 11th grade English unable to use the index of a book to find specific information. While I use the Internet myself, but then, I still know how to find the original sources of the information I find there if I need to.

    On the other hand, I know that I am a contributor to the death of those very bookstores due to my almost total reliance on my Kindle reading devices. My use of them is motivated by both financial and visual needs. Kindle books are not as expensive as hard-copy large prints, nor are many of the books I want to read even available in large print. Now that I am retired and have leisure to read what I want to (instead of what I have assigned for my students to write!) I want to reread many old favorites in the scienc-fiction/fantasy genre, and those, folks, just don’t come in large print! Unfortunately, there are non-Kindle gaps in some favorite series, including the Pern books (specifically, the HarperHall trilogy in the Pern series), but I have been pleased to find many old friends in electronic format.

    I sincerely hope print books will never go away in one sense, though I definitley understand the trend toward more and more eBooks. It’s very nice to carry an entire library around with me in one nice, flat package, instead of the cartons and cartons of books I donated to library book sales and shelves before I moved the 500+ miles from my career location to my retirement location. My Pern books went to a young college-age friend who, thankfully, is a reader

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