Many would say the writing is on the wall for physical bound books, and business models that rely on them. As Amazon recently reported to their shareholders the rate at which ebook sales are supplanting print books. The revelation that Barnes & Nobles is up for sale and prior news that Borders is seeking bankruptcy protection mark a watershed moment in the beginning of the end of the neighborhood bookstore (at least in a mainstream sense).
But that is not the point of this post. I think e-books are great for several reasons from portability, lower environmental footprint, search, sharing, and so on and so forth.
Personally, I am a big fan of bookstores and dearly miss the wonder of spending Saturday afternoons strolling the aisles of the Borders in the SoMA area of San Francisco. The Borders shutdown a few weeks ago, and I’ve been distraught ever since. My loss isn’t as much about the impending demise of an institution that sells physical books, as it is about the demise of an intellectual construct/environment it created.
Bookstores create a unique environment that enables serendipity. The freedom to explore the works of different authors, different genres, ask for help when you need it, or be private when you want, the smell of fresh brewed coffee, and familiar faces. Bookstores also create an environment for like-minded people to mingle in a safe and cordial setting.
While the neighborhood bookstore is vanishing, the neighborhood coffee shop is alive & thriving. I am hopeful that these coffee shops will evolve to be spaces that afford much of the great features of bookstores.
From a business standpoint, Starbucks has a vast network of stores and a vibrant digital network (wifi network, music download service, ad network, etc) that can virtually serve the function of bringing books to people’s computers, tablets, and mobile phones.
I am disappointed that my children (in the future) likely won’t experience the wonders of bookstores the way I did.