Depressing Bookstore Doom

17 08 2010

I think the title of this article by Brett Arend says it all: “Get Ready for the Bookstore Massacre”.

There’s not too much new here, but it’s probably the most down to earth expression of the situation surrounding books, physical bookstores and e-books that I’ve seen yet. Barnes and Noble’s stock is languishing despite the recent proxy battles, trading around $15 a share (down from $45 five years ago) and for the price of a cup of coffee a day, you can either save a starving third world kid or piss the money away on a share of Borders.

What makes me feel bad about the whole thing is it really does paint a dismal picture for rummaging around a bookstore and discovery via browsing, like Arend says:

I will be sorry to see the bookstore go. I love browsing for books. You’ll find titles you weren’t expecting or didn’t know existed. I love discovering an out of print gem in a second-hand bookstore.

Even today, if you make the full use of money-off deals and coupons at places like Borders you can often get paper books for less than e-books. And there’s a limit to how much you can carry, so there’s a limit to how much you can buy. I’ll admit I’m getting fed up with technology. I dislike computers. I’ve even taken to reading an old-fashioned newspaper again.

But it’s “progress.” We’ll have to deal with it.

Or equally dismal:

As for the book industry: About 125,000 people still work in book stores and news dealers, according to Labor. How many of them will still have jobs in two years? Another 75,000 work in book publishing. When writers self-publish in electronic format, how many publishers will still be left?

Amazon is going to make out like a bandit, though and Farhad Manjoo even predicts a $99 Kindle coming soon.

My gloom-filled view is that this will happen sooner than we expect and a whole hell of a lot faster. I just don’t see the big chains being able to provide any real reason for people to come into their stores anymore and e-readers are just going to become increasingly mainstream. Most independents are dead or dying. It’ll just be Amazon. It’s a real pity in a way. Where will people gather to be around books? It probably won’t be libraries much longer either. Will it be Goodreads? I mean, they’re already thinking they’ll kill all newspaper book reviews.

Am I just being pessimistic? I realize it sounds like I’m holding up “The End is Nigh” sign and proclaiming the end of the written word. I don’t think it’s all bad. It will lead to a democratization of the publishing world in the sense I think we’ll see far more self-publishing and self-promotion in the future as the publishing houses also start to fall by the wayside. That will be a huge increase in efficiency and a lot of good new voices will be heard. Democratization, however, brings its own set of problems. With so much slush out there (and I mean a lot of it really must be crap also), can you imagine if it were all just suddenly “out there” competing for the attention of a flighty cyber e-book buying audience? I don’t really always trust the public to pick out what’s good and what isn’t. Hell, look at the bestseller lists. It’ll be rough going without some kind of credentialed editorial voice in the production chain somewhere. Goodreads, as much as I’m a fan, probably won’t be it.