What’s a book-lover to do?

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The wrong goodbye of Barnes and Noble – post from independent publisher Melville  House on the possible, some would say probable, demise of Barnes & Noble, our last big chain bookstore.  The author says it best (bolding added):

If you include the company’s college stores, this is going to mean 1362 bookstores disappearing from the American landscape — less than two years after 686 Borders stores disappeared.  …

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not good for business, either. Two thousand bookstores vanishing would represent roughly half the total bookstores in the country. Even though many indie bookstores are thriving right now, thanks in large part to the disappearance of some cutthroat competition, how much longer can they thrive if books are simply becoming so vastly invisible?

It gets less subtle than that. Surveys say “showrooming” — seeing a thing before buying it — is an integral part of buying books online. One survey I wrote about a year ago posited that 40% of the people who buy books online looked at them in a bookstore first.

New York Times report by David Streitfeld two weeks ago took the notion a step further. Noting that “the triumph of e-books over their physical brethren is not happening quite as fast as forecast,” Streitfeld floated the idea that this may be due to the “counterintuitive possibility … that the 2011 demise of Borders, the second-biggest chain, dealt a surprising blow to the e-book industry. Readers could no longer see what they wanted to go home and order.”  …

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about all this is the fact that, as with the demise of Borders, the demise of B&N has nothing to do with what its customers actually wanted, what’s best for mother literature or free speech, or anything other than made-up trends covering for killer capitalism. There’s still plenty of evidence that people like bookstores, for example, and even sales of hardcovers — let alone print books — are holding on. And so the lust for higher margins — whether from Godiva chocolates or ebooks — turned into fool’s gold for B&N. It’s perhaps a typical death in the Free Trade era, when companies lose all sight of their identity in the blinding light of the bottom line … but it’s the wrong death for a bookseller.

This is all kind of depressing for a book-lover to contemplate (I still miss Borders), but perhaps it’s good news for libraries.  It was a librarian colleague (thanks, Patrick!) who sent this article and a related one from the WSJ, Don’t Burn Your Books – Print Is Here To Stay.

P.S. – If you’re in St. Louis and are looking for architecture and design books, the best two places to purchase them are Left Bank Books (downtown and in the West End) and the American Institute of Architects St. Louis Chapter Bookstore (downtown).  As for libraries, the newly renovated St. Louis Public Library downtown has a first-rate architecture collection as well as historical photos of buildings all around St. Louis.

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