The Changing Face of Bookselling, or R.I.P. Borders

The news that Borders is officially shutting all its doors, and then reading this post on the MaggieCakes blog about the demise of bookshops inspired me to pen this post (figuratively speaking of course). And isn’t it true that expressions like ‘pen this or that’ are becoming more figurative than actual? Many authors start and finish their books and stories and poems today on a computer. And now that is passing over to how readers acquire and often read those books and stories and poems. But let’s go back for a minute to the Borders closing issue.

Is it the end of the world? Well, no. But when I learned that they had officially declared bankruptcy, which I knew was coming anyway, my heart still sunk a little. Even though it was never as convenient for me to go there, I’ve always fancied Borders. They carried a different selection of writing books and I did discover some gems there. But, alas, I don’t always have a lot of money and price often wins over preference and I end up buying my books from Barnes & Noble – or more commonly Amazon.

The problem with Borders closing its doors is that it’s the first step towards a chain reaction of other bookshops closing their physical doors. We’ve already seen this happen with video rental. It took a while but eventually Netflix and redbox forced stores like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster to say goodbye (the very last video rental store just closed in my area this winter). I’m not so sad about that development, but the point is things do change and establishments that put other establishments out of business (the local video rental store and book store for instance) are themselves facing extinction. Maybe it’s actually more fitting than we realize.

Is change always bad? No. Will print materials vanish entirely? Well, I can’t see the future so who knows. I do think the way we buy print books will be increasingly remote, which does make me sad because I love browsing. For me, it’s about lazily scanning the shelves for something that pops out and waves wildly, saying, “I’m here! Read me!” It’s a little more difficult to browse beyond the bestseller shelf online (another physical expression gone figurative). But who knows what will spring up because of these changes in how we buy.

So while I’m still more of print book reader and love physical bookshops, I’m hardly opposed to buying online or books going digital. I’m excited at what ebooks make possible for both readers and writers and what may come as the technology improves (I’m rooting for more interactive novels). After all, ebooks have made publishing my novels independently possible, and I know readers have given my books a shot in digital format when they may not have in print. What I wish is that physical bookstores and the online world could live in harmony. But we can’t have it all.

How do you feel about all of this? Do you prefer print books or ebooks? Buying in a store or online? What do you think the future holds for readers?

Photo by Tim Walker

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