In almost every article I see about the bankruptcy and closing of Borders, there’s a section that calls this the first major fall in the demise of the physical bookstore.
Some of these leave it at the doorstep of poor economic times, or the strengths of the internet superstores, but most will continue on into the thread that ebooks are ringing the death peals over the physical stores.
I’ll be the first to admit that my perspective is a little colored by pecuniary interests (I like having a roof over my head, thank you) and by personal affection, but I honestly don’t think it’s even possible for the idea of a physical bookstore to die. Yes, times are hard, and yes, a lot of people (myself included) have those infernal e-readers that will doubtless destroy civilization, but for the true book lover, there is absolutely nothing to replace the feeling of walking into a building and seeing waves of books; of being able to pick them up, feel the weight in your hands and know the texture of the ink and paper; of being able to smell the book (but be careful with this, shipping boxes kind of reek, and if the book hasn’t had a week or so to air out on the shelf, you might regret that deep breath against the spine). You can walk in and know that some of these babies are coming home with you tonight. Then, when you get home, they get to join all of the others in whatever system you have, be it neatly placed in alphabetical order on shelves or stacked on the floor wherever you have a stack that won’t fall over when you add to it.
I love libraries- I spent most of my summers in them as a kid- but there was always something a little sad about them, too, because I didn’t get to keep the books. I wanted to have them whenever I wanted, so I could read and reread them without the worry of a waiting list or a drive to the nearest branch, or what have you. And there were deadlines, due dates, so you couldn’t savor the books as you really wanted to, you had to just read through them as quickly as possible so you didn’t get slapped with a late fee. When you walk home from a bookstore with a bag, you’re creating your own library, your own fortress of books, a room full of adventures and dreams and knowledge and advice.
E-books, and therefore e-readers, are convenient. In the end, that’s really all it comes down to. It’s not that people are absolutely captivated by the idea of never holding a physical book. It’s just more convenient. You can carry more books, you can get books immediately, they’re often a little cheaper because production costs are lower, and you’re not ripping the covers off your paperbacks by throwing them in the backpack along with everything else known to man and God. For college students who don’t have the space for a physical library, for people who move a great deal, for people with the visual impediments that keep them from enjoying books with smaller print, e-readers are convenient.
But true book lovers, even if they have an e-reader, still come into the stores (and not just for tech support). They still browse the shelves, still pick up the books, and frequently still buy them. Found an ebook they absolutely love and will reread constantly while they’re traveling? Great! And then a large number of them promptly buy a physical copy to keep on their shelves, to loan to people without e-readers, to be able to pick up and savor on the couch when they just want to feel the weight of a book in their hands. As wonderful as the children’s books are on the color e-readers, they don’t replace having the books on the shelves, don’t substitute for families sitting together over a lap book or hardcover picture book and reading as a family. And, from a purely technical standpoint: it’s not safe for the wee ones to chew on the e-reader. Soaking the pressed cardboard in a board book won’t harm them (might even help with digestion), and the eight dollar board book is a lot cheaper to replace than the e-reader.
Borders is not the bellweather for the book industry. Companies are not going to blindly follow it into bankruptcy simply because some people think the time of the physical book is a memory. Quite simply, Borders isn’t indicative of the industry as a whole. They’ve had problems for years, and for anyone who’s been paying attention, formally filing for bankruptcy isn’t a surprise. Is it lamentable? Yes, it’s always sad when a bookstore closes, and there are a lot of people who are now looking for jobs in a time when it’s hard to find them. But it’s not a surprise.
And it’s not the way the world of reading is going. People buy books because they love books, in whatever form the books happen to be. E-readers augment things wonderfully, they make things very convenient, but they don’t replace them. I firmly believe that nothing ever will.
There’s just something about a book.
Until next time~