A new chapter for bookstores

Borders, Ann Arbor.

Borders has half as many book stores as it did ten years ago. It’s filing for bankruptcy this week, and may close another third of its stores, laying off thousands more workers.

It’s the end of the bookstore as we know it.

Wait, didn’t I see that in You’ve Got Mail? The Shop Around the Corner? But now it’s the big chains and not the independents that are struggling.

Barnes and Noble is hurting too and has been laying off senior managers, the ones that deal with, you know, physical books. One consultant told the Wall Street Journal that he expects to see 90% of store shelf space disappear in ten years, as book stores go the way of the music store.

Borders, which once went through 4 CEO’s in a year, made plenty of mistakes. They are making payments on a lot of expensive real estate for one thing. But two things happened this last week that highlight their real dilemma, which is, of course, virtual books.

First, the Kindle got page numbers. The text book industry in particular must have experienced a collective shudder. And second, a new service, Lendle, now makes it possible to loan your Kindle book to a friend for 14 days. This too is big.

I’m not saying the Kindle is the biggest or the best e-book service. I’m just saying that the rate of innovation in e-books generally is rapid and irreversible. And cost and convenience will win in the end.

It’s already winning.

  • Someone gave me an e-book for Christmas.
  • The Bible I use in church now is on my cell phone.
  • Friday night I was looking for an out-of-print book I own that I wanted to refer to in a Bible study. I couldn’t find it, so I just downloaded it. For 99 cents.

Yes, there will always be books. Even book stores. The independents are making a small comeback, morphing into “venues,” with stages, liquor licenses, $6 greeting cards and readings for which you buy a ticket. The 10% of shelf space that survives will keep the luddites happy.

Personally, I’m sorry to see Borders go. It started about 40 miles from here, and I always liked their flagship store. But the last time I was in there, selection and service were diminished.

Too bad. I love bookstores. My daughter and I used to go there on dates. I own about 6,000 books. But frankly, I’ve bought as many e-books in the last year as I have paper ones. I actually read more than ever.

So it’s just a new chapter.

It’s not the end of the book.

13 thoughts on “A new chapter for bookstores”

  1. I do love the convenience and immediacy of my Kindle but much prefer the look, feel and even smell of a “real” book. One of the things I don’t like about my Kindle is the inability to thumb quickly through to find a quote or particular scene. Hoping the option to buy hard copies doesn’t disappear entirely!

  2. The ironic part to me is that the only place I have seen e-readers are within The confinements of Borders. It’s almost like they put themselves out of style.

  3. I fought the e-reader for a long time. There are so many things I love about having real books. My husband got a little irritated when we moved over here to Vietnam and at least 12 pounds of our luggage was books. But, since I’ve gotten here I realized that without an e-reader I’m going to be extremely limited in what I can read. I finally caved at Christmas and let him buy me one and I love it. I love making the font bigger and reading on the treadmill or downloading a book within seconds of deciding I want to read it. I feel a little bit guilty sometimes, like I’ve turned my back on real books, but right now they aren’t practical or accessible.

    There are still books, though, that I will always want to have a hard copy of. Just in case something happens.

  4. I think (actually I hope & pray) that we’ll always have hard copy children’s picture books . . . unless a new generation of e-readers arrives that is far less expensive, unbreakable, slobber proof, chew proof. . .

    Somehow, I can’t imagine reading “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” from a Kindle with my grandson on my lap. What gives picture books their timeless charm is their assorted sizes, shapes, thicknesses, colors, weight . . . and their look, smell, sound, texture . . . all of which beneficially stimulate a young, developing brain.

    Just my old-fashioned thoughts . . . 🙂

  5. I guess I just really like having a page between my fingers when I read. And I don’t really like the screen on most of the reading tablets, so I have yet to get one. Although I’m sure that things will start to change.

  6. Wally,

    Have you heard about the espresso machine? Not the fine Italian coffee maker but the small high speed printing press. Here is a link to the story on npr from May, 2009 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104644575. I feel like I have heard about it again more recently. Could a machine with tens of thousands of titles bridge the gap between e-books and paper bound? Gutenberg is rolling over in his grave.

  7. I’m interested to see how the development of online book readers will enhance or change the way we view books. Will it change how reading is handled in schools? I can see the appeal and feature of Kindles for books. It seems that the literature world is transitioning well with the increased technological development. I’m glad your finding success with e-readers.

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