Reading reports of a closing bookstore is a little like reading about the death of an acquaintance. It upsets, the upset driven by a stew that includes further evidence of our own mortality and reflection that maybe we weren’t quite the friend we should have been. When was the last time…?
On one level, huge national bookstores moved in and pushed out little bookstores, or perhaps forced them towards reselling used books or to target a specific marketing niche. On that level, loss of a mega bookstore is not a bad thing – if in its place, local, one shop stores spring up to serve readers. On another level, I suspect that is not what will happen, because the readership world – meaning us – is notoriously self-entitled.
Self-entitled, us readers? Yes. How many times have you walked into a bookstore, spent at least a half hour, but probably longer, and walked out not having made a purchase? How many times have you browsed books or magazines, perhaps read a chapter or two, or an article or two, and bought nothing? And with the advent of online purchasing and now e-readers, how many times have you physically searched a bookstore, found something of interest, and then went home or used a mobile device and purchased it online? How many? Well, here is what NPR has to say and what boston.com has to say: browsers don’t buy.
I can recall going into Borders in Madison, a huge two story box, and spending hours. I can recall going into A Room Of One’s Own and browsing for hours. I walked out with a purchase of so many books it weighed down my luggage on the return home. Unfortunately for booksellers, more people do the browse and leave than do the browse and buy, even though the shoppers, more than in any other retail perusing experience, came away with something, if only with it stored in their minds.
Normally I’d be thrilled to see local booksellers given space again in which to thrive. I’d love to see us without Wal-marts and Targets. I doubt small shops gain any traction, because the alternatives that killed Borders are still lurking, growing more powerful, with less need for employees and physical space, and with a business model that sucks money from a community, not a dime of it being spent locally by way of salaries or investments. Who’s guilty? Me, for one.
We are a people geared to efficiency. Unfortunately, that efficiency produces great profit at the top of the economic food chain, and not much for those further down. We are willing participants in the demise of not only bookstores, but ourselves. So long as we are employed and we can buy something cheaper, who cares about the next person’s job?
When I read the boston.com article, I was astounded over the audacity of people who make a daily routine of lunch hours spent in Borders, using that time for enjoyment and to gain insight into what they liked so it could be purchased online, elsewhere. Maybe I have no right to call out their entitlement. Maybe my history means I can never observe and opine in such a manner, but I am.
I like local shops. Small, unique local shops. Beyond bookstores, I like seeing one store carry products another does not have, or travelling far to a community that has products not available at home. I like the ambiance of it all. For fifty years, we’ve homogenised retail, culling uniqueness for scales of efficiency, and the cause of it all is…