A World Without Borders Bookstores

My Bookshelves

Dear Reader:

I am taking a break from Outside the Box in D.C. to comment on the news about Borders. Remember when the big-box bookstore rolled into town? Independent bookstores weakened and died. Patrons mourned, but they ended up shopping at Borders anyway because, let’s face it, Borders carried just about everything you ever wanted to read and more . . . plus you could have some great coffee and feel chic and intellectual sitting at a cafe table, sipping lattes and reading your Philip Roth, your Stephen King, or your Candace Bushnell.

Image from IMDb website.

Movies were made. Who can forget Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, in YOU’VE GOT MAIL? She tried so hard and loved her store so much, and it just about broke your heart when her authors jumped ship for bigger booksignings at the megastore “around the corner.” The movie ended with this feeling of inevitability. Little guys will lose. Big guys will win. End of story.

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com website.

And what is bigger than a big-box brick and mortar bookstore like Borders? An internet retailer. The virtual shelves of an internet bookstore are endless. End-less. Was the closing of Borders inevitable?

Probably. First, the rising tide of online shopping ate away at the retail giant’s sunny shores. According to some analysts, Borders did not adapt quickly enough with their online platform. Annie Lowrey wrote an article for Slate magazine slamming the bookseller for outsourcing their internet sales to Amazon early on. Then the tsunami of electronic books & magazines rocked the publishing world.

Some of us (read: older) readers love our hardcovers and paperbacks and glossy print magazines. We like the smell of books. We like the feel of turning the pages. We like dust-jackets. But as time goes on, I see more and more people reading on their Kindles and Nooks, and if we haven’t already reached a tipping point there, the time is fast approaching. In fact, I’m wondering how much longer we will have any new printed materials at all.

I still have certain reservation about e-publishing, namely: what happens if the power goes out? In a low-energy world where we’ve used up all the easily-available oil, where a non-renewable resource–coal–continues to power the electric grid of large cities, where that grid infrastructure is vulnerable to decay and terrorist activities, where we haven’t yet ramped up our alternative, sustainable options such as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy technologies . . . in a world like that will electronic readers, tablets, laptops, and smartphones really be a reliable platform for information storage?

How will we make sure that the least affluent in our democratic society still have access to information? Will the rich and middle-classes be willing to buy e-readers for the poor via library programs, education initiatives, or flat-out charitable donations?

Will “somebody” be printing out at least a few hundred copies of the most important works, storing them in a secure location just in case? The thought of losing our collective knowledge gives me the willies! We will need all the information–scientific, sociological, historical, psychological, anthropological, etc–if, indeed, the fit hits the shan.

More of my library

Which is why we need to keep some of this (see pic above) even as we move into a new bookselling era.

The role of independent, brick and mortar bookstores will become increasingly important, I believe, in the coming years. For those of us who love “real” books, these stores will be suppliers for our fixes. They will also be micro-conservators of information, as will those of us who keep home libraries. Locally-owned bookstores will continue to provide spaces for book-lovers to meet, to talk about literature and the issues that literature explores.

Will we survive in a world without Borders? Sure thing. Click on the Indie Store Finder and check out a local, independent bookstore near you. Shop there. Buy something. Build a family library. Be picky. Go to a used book store and find some unusual books on subjects most interesting to you. Become an "information saver." If your bookshelves are already full, go through your collection and weed out the books you'll never want to read again and make room for some classics. Donate your old books to library book sales, swap groups at a community center or transfer station, or bring the best of them in to used bookstores to trade for some credit.

And, yeah. Go ahead and buy a Kindle or Nook or other e-reader if you want to. It's the wave of the future . . . the near future, anyway.

6 responses to “A World Without Borders Bookstores

  1. As a lover of the printed book, I am so sad about the closing of Borders. Our family embraces electronics with numerous iPhones, laptops, desktops, and a Kindle in our collection; however, I prefer paper books and magazines. Our agreement with our children was that we would always buy them as many books as they could read and/or check them out from the local library (although the books available there are somewhat limited). I thought I personally had supported Borders out of bankruptcy, but I guess not.

    I am constantly thinning out the shelves to make room for more or buying more bookshelves to gain more storage space. Although some e-readers have temporary “lend” features, I love to read a book and pass it on to a friend that I think will enjoy it. I never see the books again most of the time, but spreading the love of words and reading makes me happy. I don’t think that electronic materials will ever be able to be shared that way or easily accessed by those of lower income levels. We need to ensure that reading doesn’t once again become accessible only to those of a certain means.

    • Yes, Marcia, but there are lots of independent bookstores out there! Nonesuch Books is one obvious choice. They are now in Biddeford at the shopping center, easy to get to. Plus their shop in S. Portland. We had bookstores before Borders and we will still have bookstores. Just smaller ones.

  2. PS: I love “real” books, too. And I used to enjoy Borders, browsing sections I normally would never find online. I loved the cafe atmosphere. It’s like the end of an era. It is a little sad.

  3. Where to start. As someone who worked at an “indie” it gets scary when even the big guys are feeling the pinch. But as you mentioned- these indie stores are about communities. I loved having customers come in to browse and always felt it a good days work when I could match the perfect book with a patron. We showcased local jewlers and crafters. It was my dream job! I must admit I do more borrowing from the local library these days until I can get to my favorite store in Damariscotta. A place that feels like an extension of home!

  4. I like any bookstore–big box or small, although I prefer the locally owned ones for the ambiance. There is a great bookstore in the greater Jacksonville, FL area–I think it is actually near Orange Park–called Chamblain’s Book Mine. Rows upon rows of used books, all organized by category, room after room–one could spend all day there, just rooting around to see what one can find. I wish we had something like that in Maine. My husband just discovered a mystery-based bookstore in Kennebunk, I will have to check that out soon. Funny thing about the Kindle–someone I know who is camping this week, posted on Facebook that her Kindle (or one of the options in that category) died on her. She had already ordered another one, but she was glad she had a “trusty paperback” with her as a standby. I thought it was kind of ironic.

    • Great story, Emily, about the Kindle. I was just thinking about how there will be no “used book” market for new releases in a few years if this trend keeps up. That will be weird. How will you read a book without having to pay full price for it? And when there are no print books anymore, the publishers can put any price they want on the e-books, so it might not be cheaper at all. And then no sharing or reselling or used book stores . . . not sure I like where this is headed from a consumer pov. From a writer/publishing pov, it would be a good thing. But I believe in a balance between the two.

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