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.
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.
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.
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.