What will become of bookstores?

I love bookstores.  I have always loved bookstores.  I love them as much as I love libraries, and that's saying something.  But I can foresee a day when they will




I live in Australia, where books are, for a complex series of reasons that I've had explained to me many times but still stubbornly refuse to accept, jaw-droppingly expensive.   So, yes, I confess it:  when the Aussie dollar is strong and I get a windfall (both have to happen at once), I buy up big online.  I, personally, am killing what I love.  If even I can kill bookstores, how much easier for the completely matter-of-fact and pragmatic amongst us?

It might be worth a moment to look at what, specifically, makes me love bookstores.
  1. I love the endless rows of shiny new books — all those possibilities, all those adventures awaiting!  And they're shiny and new, and they could be mine!

  2. I love being able to look through a book, check out the author's style, see if the index and bibliography bolster its credentials, see if the pictures are pretty.

  3. I love the physical act of taking a book home to be my very own, reading it on the train (oh, yes, friends, because of the appalling paucity of bookstores in Wollongong, I must take a train to Sydney to find bookstores that offer books that intrigue me).

  4. I love the community of people who love books.  I love launches, readings, author talks, all that stuff.
Numbers 1 and (now) 2 can be replicated by Amazon, with the additional fun of keywords, "you might also likes", and customer reviews.  Number 3 can be not just replaced, but actually eclipsed by the joy of getting a box of books in the mail.  (Sorry, ebook-weenie friends, a download will NEVER equal it.)  So far, bookstores are not faring so well in a competitive market.

But look at Number 4.  What distinguishes it?  Actual, real-time, real-space human interaction.

I've been a member of online communities for nearly 30 years.  I'm extraordinarily comfortable talking with, becoming friends with, and even (in one memorable instance) falling in love with someone I have not seen in person.  (The falling-in-love thing did eventually result in a wedding and a child, I state for clarity's sake.)  But it's just not as immediate, as warm, as unpredictable, as vital, as a real-life face-to-face encounter.  That's where bookstores rule.*

My question is:  how feasible is it for bookstores to ditch the things that people don't need them for (that is, buying books) and focus on providing the things that people do need them for (that is, conversation, coffee and coffee analogues, a sense of occasion, and the spark of innovation and excitement that comes when people share ideas)?  Maybe bookstores should all become readers' cafes — or, better yet, readers', writers', and artists' cafes.  Havens where people who treasure ideas and creativity can relax, eat and drink nice things, and feel loved and welcomed. 

*Note: my husband and I did not get married in a bookstore, nor am I recommending bookstores necessarily as places to, um, begin a pregnancy, as this might disturb the other patrons, who are trying to read — ugh! Honestly! Rude much?


At 6:27 AM, Blogger Cathy S said...

the good ones are places where people seeking deeper engagement with their culture and society choose to congregate. They are offering language classes, reading groups, singles nights, writing workshops, self-publishing solutions.
Not all bookstores have gotten on board with the transition from being a place where books await customers to being a locale of social and cultural exchange, which happens to support itself in part by selling books. The brilliant Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has noted that the less a retail experience is focused on selling stuff and the more it is about something else -- an event, an occasion, a vision -- the more a store will sell. - R Nash http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/07/21/nash.borders.books/index.html?hpt=hp_bn9

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Cathy S said...

the other (if not primary) joy of a bookstore, used or new (and I prefer those that combine both) is finding a book I didn't know existed before browsing through the shelves, but can't resist taking home with me once I know it is there.


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