Here in Memphis, The Booksellers is going belly up – causing an emotional shock among my friends almost as great as the election. Since I’m a senior citizen Book Rioter, I’ve seen countless bookstores come and go. I remember the thrill of their openings and the depression of their closings. I know of only one bookstore older than myself, and I think I’ll outlive it. But hell, nothing seems to last anymore. I’m truly sad bookstores are going out of business, but aren’t we to blame?
Among my bookish friends lamenting the demise of our favorite bookstore, we feel something significant has changed in our lives. The Booksellers used to be Davis-Kidd Booksellers, which at one time had several locations across Tennessee, with legions of devoted fans. Evidently not enough. Will any bookstore stay in business in these changing technological times?
I admit my guilt. I’ve bought dozens of books this month. None from a new bookstore. I now prefer digital books – either Kindle editions or Audible audiobooks. I own over two thousand books I carry around in my iPhone 6s Plus. I’d need a Class 4 truck do that with hardbacks.
I went to Barnes & Noble Monday, our last remaining bookstore selling new books, and spent $35. But I bought two expensive computer magazines and a remaindered coloring book – no new books. For over forty years in my younger life, I’d visit bookstores two or three times a week, always hanging out in the science and science fiction sections. My Barnes & Noble have large sections for those books. However, I didn’t even glance at them. I’ve decided it’s unfair to use their shelves for perusing books I would only buy at Amazon. And if I’m extra honest, how I select books is far more sophisticated than the old days. I used to spend a few minutes flipping through a volume before making an impulse purchase. Now I research books on the internet before I hit the order button, getting to know them in ways no store clerk could.
If I only buy magazines and pick over the remaindered books will bookstores stay in business? Are my buying habits typical? Even those buying habits are changing. I subscribe to Texture where I have access to 200+ digital magazines, and I’ve been thinking about subscribing to Comixology because young Book Rioters are making me feel I’m missing something by not reading comics. By the way, am I wrong in thinking comic fans mostly buy their comics digitally, rather than collect paper editions? What will bookstores sell in the future? Now that I think of it, all the comic book stores I used to see are no longer in business.
Most bookworms wail and gnash their teeth when their favorite bookstore dies, but aren’t we killing their business? Aren’t we killing libraries too? We’re living through a paradigm shift. Some younger Book Rioters will even wonder why I’m writing this essay because digital books are all they’ve ever known. Most bookworms, of all ages, still love physical books and will riot over the idea of them disappearing. Yet, how many of you buy books at your local bookstore paying full list price?
I feel really bad that bookstores are going out of business, but aren’t we bookworms to blame? Or is that fair? Is this a natural business evolution and no one is to blame? Bookstores are going the way of video stores. That’s deeply sad. I often lament not owning a typewriter or an 8-bit computer. I miss them. But if I owned one, they’d be gathering dust in the attic.
Change is relentless. If you live long enough everything becomes nostalgia.