One Thing That Really Is Dying: Bookstores
Couple days ago the cover of Wired announced the death of the web. And there was much hemming and hawing about things being declared dead while they continue to thrive.
But I do know one definitely dying thing in my corner of the universe: bookstores.
I used to haunt used bookstores (a college student habit in Portland, home of the awesomest used bookstore) but have gradually morphed into the worst type of customer – the one that merely browses, pets the cat, checks out the magazine rack, only to leave without buying anything. I now usually look up the price of every potential purchase on Amazon, sometimes via the iPhone, to see if the price is cheaper there (it inevitably is). I’ve even placed the occasional order for a book directly in the store.
Yeah, so by voting with dollars, people like me are to blame, but I bet you do it to.
And recently, I’ve come to the decision to buy as few hard cover books as possible – and go all-digital. I haven’t settled on Kindle or iBooks, but it’s one or the other. Yep, am abandoning the romance of hard cover books and the big wall library. It’s not personally satisfying to have a wall of books I read once or twice years ago and have never looked at again. They take up too much space, are heavy, and pretty wasteful, really. They’re all going away in the months to come. Yes, I am moving in the direction of this digital minimalism thing.
This pattern has precedence in music and movies. I once had a pretty big collections of both CDs and DVDs. Almost a decade ago, I ripped all the CDs and put the physical media into storage. I think I’ve looked at those discs perhaps twice in the past ten years. Meanwhile, purchases of CDs were replaced with iTunes. About a year ago, started doing the same with DVDs – sold the collection, and am now subsisting on Netflix until the day they’re all available through Netflix Watch Instantly. I have a hard drive with enough ripped movies to literally last a lifetime. Meanwhile, two Blockbuster video stores closed in our area recently. Nothing has filled their place. (Barnes & Noble = Blockbuster). I think there used to be a Tower Records around here too, don’t even remember when it closed.
So while I feel a little sad for the way a good bookstore adds color to a neighborhood, business trends cannot be ignored. Physical books may eventually hit that point where they’re a curiosity, like an old VHS tape or LP record. It will take years if not decades, but seems inevitable.