Sunday, August 08, 2010
Who Will Turn Out the Lights in America's Last Bookstore
Suddenly Barnes & Noble and Borders seemed to share the national book market except for the surprise of something called a Books-A-Million store that popped up every once in a while. Mass market book consumers rejoiced at the low price of bestsellers, while hardcore book lovers grieved at the way the book market was being controlled by just two giant corporations. Prices were down, but so was choice.
Then along came a little internet startup, Amazaon.com, to challenge the dominance of the Big 2 book retailers. Barnes & Noble and Borders, used to having things their way, and not immediately recognizing the challenge of competing with an online bookseller the likes of Amazon, were slow to react. So slow, in fact, that Borders has been losing money and closing stores for years in a desperate struggle just to keep its own doors open. And now, even Barnes & Noble, the company that once seemed headed toward total dominance of the market, has put itself up for sale because it is not likely to otherwise survive into the next decade.
But even Amazon should not get complacent because, with the increasing acceptance of e-books, even a giant like Amazon is going to be challenged for market share. Barnes & Noble did just that with the introduction of its Nook e-book reader but does not seem to have regained much, if any, market share in the process. Sony tried it, probably with even less success than Barnes & Noble (just a gut feel on my part because I do not have the numbers to verify it). But hold on, Amazon, because here comes Mr. Apple, Steve Jobs, with his iPad, a not-so-little gizmo that can function pretty well as an e-book reader among the countless other things it can do that the Kindle cannot. Mr. Apple is, in fact, so powerful that he has already, much to Amazon's chagrin, changed the whole pricing structure for e-books.
My question is this: what are you going to do when bookstores go the way of CD stores? Remember those things? I, for one, did not even realize they were disappearing until they were almost all gone, but I am a bit more aware of what is happening this time around.
Someone please tell me this means a return, at least, to the days of the local independent bookstores, a step back toward the way we were a few decades ago. I am willing to pay higher prices (and do it all the time) if it means that I can still drive to a nice bookstore on Saturday mornings, especially to one that still feels like a real bookstore. Alas, Sven Birkets of the Wall Street Journal does not believe this will be the case. See this article, "Bye-Bye Bookstores," for his thoughts.
Thankfully, I already own a pretty good library of my own and a room into which I can escape to be surrounded by books. Perhaps that is where we are heading - a return to the fantastic home libraries of centuries past. These days, I find myself singing the old song, "Stop the World and Let Me Off," with a whole new appreciation for its sentiments.