The Failure of Book Stores

I try to live my life in such a way that I am, more often than not, the solution to the problem as opposed to being the actual problem. It’s part of that whole “do more good than harm” thing I strive for. But then today I realized that despite my best attempts that I am, more often than not, not a part of the solution.

My local Barnes & Noble is closing its doors at the end of the year.

BN Closing

Sure, I frequent B&N all of the time– from my bed, in my home, on my Nook; but I rarely, if ever, purchase a physical book. So today when I walked into the local B&N with Bit Bit (the sister) and saw the sign, I frowned. I commented how it’s such a shame that book stores are closing left and right. Then I thought a bit about how Borders had been my preferred store for years until I had moved to an area which only had B&N and then I kind of fell for B&N, too. Then I got my Nook (which is B&N’s e-reader for those of you living under a rock) and the paperback was history. All in all, my love affair with book stores has waned. And on some level, I knew this would happen.

Years ago before I got my first iPod, I chided those on the forefront of technology with a myriad of reasons I preferred to keep my CDs. I was not about to be one of those people. But then I decided to give it a try and as you can predict, I LOVED it.

Adios, mix-tapes!

So why again when the e-reader came around did I chastise those who made the initial leap? Here’s a run-down of my thought process:

  • Waning bookstore sales and closing of family-owned and independent bookstores due to heightened internet sales
  • Paranoia about lacking a physical copy of the book (but they could take it away if it’s digital!)
  • Up-front cost to purchase an e-reader and the possibility of disliking the reading experience
  • That “book” feeling and smell (you know what I’m talking about) not being replicated in the e-reader format
  • Visiting book stores and being able to peruse the shelves

They’re all valid concerns. But let me tell you– the last year in which I’ve been reading books on my Nook has been divine. I’m far less paranoid about “losing” my e-copies of my books (surely the Department of Justice would spank Penguin or B&N if they took away my Chicagoland, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they? I don’t miss visiting book stores because I still visit them almost on a weekly basis (Books, the bestie, is still a paperback purchaser despite owning a Kindle.) That book feeling and smell which I thought I would miss so terribly was actually a sorely romanticized version of the truth: paper cuts suck; pages rip and discolor; and binds break. Not to mention the fact that the paper can get really dry and dry out your hands from too much reading.

But here’s the big one…

Paperbacks can be inconvenient to read. I read most often on my side, in bed, late at night. The book I’m reading currently (a paperback, gasp!) is over four hundred pages and it can make for some awkward neck angles to hold it comfortably. In comparison, the Nook is great because I can find one position, stay in it, and just read. And because of this, I have read a LOT more this past year compared to previous years. But this isn’t an advertisement for the Nook. This is about book stores closing and some even, sadly, going out of business.

As I was walking through B&N today and looking at the closed-off aisles and empty shelves I realized that dwindling in-store sales are likely the cause of the location’s closure. With B&N’s active online store and devoted Nook owners, B&N is sure to remain in the book selling game for years to come. But this digital age comes with a price.

Every time we make a purchase online we rob ourselves of the experience of walking into a book store and browsing the shelves, opening the books, and even sometimes socializing with other shoppers. Even though I rarely buy books in-store anymore, I love being able to walk into a book store and poke around to see if my next great literary love is waiting for me on one of the shelves. I do love books, and at one time had even toyed with the idea of opening my own book shop– that love hasn’t been lost with my recent move to the digital format. Still, I wonder not about the future of book stores (because I think while there are fewer in number, they won’t disappear all together) but about my future with book stores. On one hand, I love the convenience of online shopping and there’s no denying that the online store is much more vast than its brick and mortar counterpart; but on the other hand I have to question what we lose when we shuck the store in favor of the web. It is also, however, unrealistic to expect that in our fast-changing world where every other industry is so quickly changing that we don’t expect the publishing industry (production and sales alike) to evolve as well. And I suppose sometimes evolution includes the loss of one thing in favor of another.

Something to think about.


2 thoughts on “The Failure of Book Stores

  1. I don’t use an e-reader and I do use our local Borders-replacement: Books-a-million. But my problem is the costs. Books are EXPENSIVE. Were talking 18-20$ a peice for most of the ones Id want when I can get some at wal-mart for nearly half that and the rest I can get on amazon for much cheaper too. I WANT to buy from bookstores but its tough sometimes 😦


    1. Stacey,

      I totally understand. It’s difficult to straddle the line between what you believe to be responsible consumerism and personal convenience. But the important thing is that we’re reading, right? 😀


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