Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why Bookstores Are Like A T-Rex

I like bookstores because of their smell. I like bookstores because of the infinite possibilities that lie within their stacks. I like them because of what they represent, and what they promise, and what they provide.

If I had my way--my one, true, and ideal existence on this planet--I'd ride off into the sunset of life owning my own little bookshop somewhere. It would sit on a corner of a little street, in a little town.

I'd sell books, and comics, and coffee, and little cakes. And I'd be the happiest person you'll ever know.

I almost rented an apartment above a bookshop once, a few months ago. But then I was reminded of the inherent and exacerbated risk of fire, and the location of the store/apartment in relation to everything and everyone else in my life.

And it just didn't make sense.

But the idea of living above all those books was romantic and quaint and, because of the nature of the shop, more than a little bit quirky.

As a kid, I used to think it'd be the coolest thing ever to live in a bookstore. To stay there all day and night, and to explore every shelf, every book, and every world within.

As I got older--and became unemployed for two different stints in my young "career"--my conceptions of living in a bookstore changed. Dramatically. Hanging out for hours on end in a Borders cafe, searching for jobs, or writing things for no one, was not the dream existence I had previously envisioned.

Still, that wasn't the bookstore's fault.

Currently, I make a point of it to visit a bookstore--either a big one, like Borders or Barnes & Noble, or a local shop--at least once a week, usually on Tuesdays if there are any new releases that interest me, or on Saturdays when I have some time to wander.

And bookshops still hold for me those same, wonderful possibilities as they've always had.

However, I find it increasingly difficult to buy books at a physical store location. Out-of-stock books, insanely stupid shelving policies, employees who are so overworked and exhausted and underpaid that they just don't care what you're asking about.

The list goes on forever.

The reasons for this are myriad, and I know them all too well. As I write this, I received an email about how Borders had a(nother) disastrous quarter of sales, and that they are once again at Death's door.

We've heard for the past two-plus years how the retail giant has very little time left, and people are again calling their long term well-being into question.

Book sales stink, and there's no way anyone could argue that they'll get better anytime soon. For as much talk as publishers like to spew about being "progressive," the truth of the matter is that they simply don't know how best to utilize new technologies.

Which is understandable, since they are the first publishers in history to deal with the dawning and rapid expansion of the digital age.

Publishers are hanging on due to their content--because Content is King. But that content is available on a slew of different platforms these days, and the tried-and-true hardbound book is simply out of favor with the masses.

Added to that is, obviously, the one-shop, one-click shopping provided by Amazon, which somehow hasn't rendered actual stores completely and irrecoverably extinct. But not for lack of trying.

There's still something to books, to holding a real and actual thing as opposed to a digital file that exists somewhere in the ether.

But try going to a bookstore at this time of year.

People in every direction. Books pulled from their normal (almost) logical shelves to be placed on special theme tables at different locations in the store, the replacing of customer service kiosks with an e-reader table (huh?!)...

To cap it all off, I called a Barnes & Noble the other day, looking for a book to give as a present. It's an expensive book, and I really wanted to pay for it in cash, as opposed to buying online and plunking something else on a credit card.

So I called the store and asked if they had it. They didn't carry the book, I was told, because of its price.

"Can you order it?" I asked.

"Sure, but that wouldn't make much sense, sir," was the answer. "You can buy it on our site for much cheaper than what we would charge here--plus, you'd have to pay it in full over the phone because of the high price."

"So I--um. OK. Thanks for your time."

"You're welcome. Is there anything else I could help you with?"

"No, thanks," is what I said into the reciever. But I was thinking something else entirely.


A Philosophical Nerd said...

I know exactly how you feel. I don't ever see myself owning an electronic device to read books on. I'm very old-fashioned; give me the physical feel of a hardbound or paperback book any day of the week.

I'm a local musician and I have a gig at our local Border's this Friday. I don't get out there as often as I can, but we also have the bad economy to blame. Books can be expensive, which is why I usually stick to paperback books as opposed to hard-cover books. Plus I look for sales when I can (I bought Douglas Adams' entire Hitchiker's series at a great price). I certainly hope Borders keeps going. If we lose our bookstores I feel that we lose our last connection with the past. Reading Sherlock Holmes just wouldn't be the same on a Kindle.

AJG said...

Well said, APN.