As often happens in my daily life, somebody said something today that stuck in my head. Thank God that, this time, it wasn’t somebody trying to remember the words to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Today, the subject was reading, which led me to thinking I don’t do enough of it, which led me to thinking I read most of my stuff these days on my Kindle, which led me to lamenting the sorry state of book publishing (and getting an agent, for that matter), which led me to thinking about the disappearing phenomenon known as the bookstore.
No, it’s not necessarily new, but it’s still a real issue. One bookstore owner interviewed for Beyond the Margins says “he thinks many people don’t realize the struggle bookstores really face — and they don’t see the people who really do walk into stores daily, with handheld devices to scan barcodes and buy books more cheaply at Amazon.”
True enough. In a way, this resembles what those of us in the journalism business saw 5-10 years. Newspapers, wanting to get in on the whole Internet fad, starting building websites that mirrored their print versions. Same layout (essentially), same content. But why pay 50-75 cents for a daily copy (or more) when you could read the same copy for free on the Web? A newspaper ended up competing with itself. And losing. And has been ever since. I do remember thinking, at the time, that the Philadelphia Inquirer had the right idea, at least for the time being. The PI was one of the first papers to offer an online presence that enhanced the print version, with hyperlinks to source documents and full reports, for example.
I’ll admit, I read more and more off my Kindle these days. GQ, CNN, ESPN, J.D. Rhoades’ latest redneck noir novel, USAToday, Inked Magazine, American Iron, and various blogs. But not because I want to be all high-tech and hip. The Kindle — and online book shopping — has just become more practical in my life. It doesn’t help that the only bookstore in my county, a Borders, closed months ago. And I’ve felt that loss. I truly enjoy browsing a bookstore, especially one set up just for people like me who enjoy the experience. Borders was like that. It probably killed them, though.
And I know that over the last year I’ve sold more Kindle editions of my books (at least the ones that are available in e-book format) than any other edition.
That same book owner seems to know this: “I don’t know what’s going to happen to St. Mark’s or to independent bookstores in general. I think there are still people who want to be able to walk into a bookstore and browse and walk out with a new book. I just think that there are fewer of them all the time, and not many new ones coming along.”
That sure seems to be the case.
For example, I found a new blog today that I hope to explore over the next few days, Dead Mule. If the fiction and poetry are as entertaining as the “About” section, it’ll be well worth the time.