Shedding Brick-and-Mortar: Growing Pains

No one’s surprised by the decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores anymore—after Borders declared bankruptcy and every electronic developer started making eReaders, coverage is more comparable to watching bookstores drop one by one like lemmings from the proverbial cliff than actually reporting news.
It was a dark and stormy night...

It was a dark and stormy night...

Barnes & Noble seems like it might be the next to go: about nine months ago, the company was put up for sale, but like a million-dollar house in a seller’s market, it sat untouched for quite awhile. Recently, however, Liberty Media (LM) has offered to buy B&N, though they maintain that their bid is simply an offer and is in no way guaranteed at this time.

The main motivation for the bid seems to be John Mogul’s (the head honcho of LM) aspiration to beat out Amazon and Apple in the eReader arena. B&N even put out yet another updated Nook last month, which can last up to two months on a single charge and has a handful of sleek new design features­­1.

Other more general coverage of the rise of digital content versus the fall of print content seems stilted and confused2, as if this is such a strange development that trying to handle it all at once is just plain difficult (like comparing apples to oranges).

I wish I could say that there was more sadness over the decline of bookstores, but there don’t seem to be many tears being shed. Most bookstores have a place to sit and read, but consumers can go do the same at the inevitably local Starbucks—and with eReaders, they can even purchase a new book while they’re there.

This transition has all brick-and-mortar retailers in a panic, and to be honest, the last Borders that I went to looked like a crime scene. I recently checked out the closing weekend of one of five Borders to close in New Jersey, and it was a heartbreaking sight. Every publication was $4.99 or below at that point, and the furniture and fixtures were on sale too. My mom jokingly asked me later, “What lucky customer got the espresso machine from the coffee bar?”

Last weekend at Borders.

The empty Young Adult section.

I’d say there were 750 – 1,000 books left in the place, and I, poetry fanatic that I am, searched every disorganized shelf for collections so that I might at least save the remains of the poetry section from whatever fate the rest of the books would face when the store closed its doors for good. I hadn’t even heard of any of the poets I rescued, but with them, some miscellaneous titles, and a hardcover Orson Scott Card novel (how had it not sold yet?) in my arms, I left what had been the only bookstore near my hometown. If anything, that’s worth taking a moment for.

A big part of why I became such an avid reader growing up was because of the time I spent walking up and down the aisles of a Borders store. Anyone can browse on an eReader for new titles, but if I were a kid scrolling through selections on a screen, I don’t think I’d have been half as interested in whatever I found there. If you ask me, there’s a sense of discovery in physically finding a book that clicking on the thumbnail of a cover just doesn’t have.

Save the books!

Save the books!

There’s no denying the significance of digital content, but to reiterate, the coverage and loss of physical bookstores make it seem as though no one will ever read print content again. Bookstores other than Borders are feeling the impact of bankruptcy that the big retailers are experiencing, and even B&N, one of the most significant names in eReading, is looking to sell strictly because of the rise of digital content. The market of publishing is, for all intents and purposes, going through some serious growing pains.



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