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.