“But there is no doubt — as I have written many times in recent months – that the book business is in a period of change so dynamic that any outcome is possible, from an era of exciting expansion to a precipitous decline in sales at brick-and-mortar stores that undermines the revenue base of publishing. A year ago it would have seemed inconceivable that Broadway’s biggest bookstores would be shuttered.” ~Peter Osnos, The End of Borders and the Future of the Printed Word, The Atlantic, Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Perhaps consumers see a chance to get a deal on some good books before the once-beloved store’s doors are shuttered.
Perhaps consumers no longer confuse “a place to buy” with a “place to read” or a “place to come together in community”.
“I can read anywhere, but I wanted to buy something at this place. I wanted to buy more time there.”
As a human being who reads, I long to return to the little coffee shop/book store that I stumbled upon while on vacation in northeast Arkansas with my family. It seemed to be located in the “middle of nowhere”; there were no lines and they certainly didn’t seem to be a dying business – in fact, this little place seemed quite popular. I had a wonderful coffee and scone, along with delightful conversations with the locals including the bookstore owner about wonderful words (the word “propinquity” to be specific). My wife and sons joked about how I was the only person who would have such a conversation about a word, “propinquity“, in a remote tiny village along a lazy creek. I can read anywhere, but I wanted to buy something at this place. I wanted to buy more time there.
I meet friends every Thursday morning at our local Panera Bread Company to discuss whatever book we are currently reading. While there, I see many of the same people each week, happen upon old friends and acquaintances, and have introduced myself to some fascinating people who are becoming friends.
Panera doesn’t sell books. I often must wait in line to buy my coffee and scone. But what Panera offers is what Borders never figured out – community. A place to gather, read, speak and be heard, meet an old friend or someone new. Coffee and scones seem like mere accoutrements.
I am a bookaholic and admit buying some of the books in my collection not only because I wanted to read the books, but because I liked the look and feel of them. I have old beat-up copies of books that I’ve rescued from mildewy basements and I treasure a leather-bound collector edition of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” that I purchased from a “Great Books” club.
Most of my books these days come from Amazon.com, to which I pay an annual fee for “free” two-day shipping. I have no trouble finding the books I want, discovering books I didn’t know I wanted, and returning books I decided I didn’t want. So as a consumer, I am quite satisfied – even thrilled – with my ability to buy books without ever entering a book store.
I used to love spending time browsing, reading and buying books in places like Borders, but not so much any more. I don’t miss “bricks and mortar” book stores in the least. What I once liked about them I get from other kinds of places now. I can easily buy a book to read with a couple of “clicks” of my finger, on this very same page you are reading right now, and I can read anywhere. I don’t want Borders any more, and I certainly don’t need them.
You see, Borders forgot that people want to buy what they need from someone who understands what they want. They completely forgot this basic human truth about buying and selling. As a result, they simply died.
Borders tried to transition from merely a bookseller to all I describe above and they failed. Others have already learned from this failure – they will learn or fail, too – and they will create something better, more satisfying, more appealing to consumers, humans and readers alike.
New sellers will understand the distinctions among “a place to buy”, a “place to read” and a “place to come together in community”. They won’t all have long lines, but they won’t be dying breeds, either. At least, not yet.