This past year, the Borders bookstore closed in my hometown. It was one of a succession of bookstores that opened in our local malls, remained open for a number of years, then closed from economic pressure. The first that I recall, many years ago, was a small bookstore called “The Friar Tuck Bookshop.” I purchased my first fantasy novels there. “Friar Tuck” was followed by “Waldenbooks” (I think that’s the same company as Borders), and then “Borders.” There may have been another one or two stores in the line, but those are the ones I remember. I was kind of annoyed that Borders closed. Now all we have left is “The Cornerstone Bookshop.” It’s a decent enough shop, but it only deals in used books.
I guess my question is: are we seeing the end of the brick-and-mortar bookshops? I know this question was raised when Amazon first came on the scene, and despite Amazon’s success, brick-and-mortar shops have been putting up quite a fight for the last decade or so. But this past year, Borders, which happened to be one of the retail book giants, filed for bankruptcy, and was then liquidated a short time later. It is gone, now. And this, of course, spawns the “is the brick-and-mortar bookstore doomed” question anew.
The problem, as I see it, is not simply the business model, but the merchandise. Hard copies of books are nice, but ebooks are cheaper, easier to carry, and easier to purchase. Why go to a bookstore to get your favorite author’s next novel, when you can just download it on the Internet from the Amazon or Barnes and Noble website? Or, if you must have a hardcopy, just order one from the Internet and wait for the mail. Add to that the growing number of free ebooks, and I really do have fears for the brick-and-mortar industry. The only convenience a large brick-and-mortar store has over an Internet website is the ease with which one can browse the titles. But I think that will change in time as well. All someone needs to do is write a program that randomly picks out titles, and you have the online version of browsing. Actually, the websites may have that functionality already. If they don’t, it’s only a matter of time. I mean, really, if I want the computer to give me a list of 10 random fantasy books, ebooks or hardcopy, how hard can it be to program. You have the genre, ten books, and I know there are random number generators for the computers. It should be relatively easy. And how about sitting down in one of those nice comfy chairs to browse through a book you are thinking of purchasing? Well, ebooks already have similar functionality allowing you to sample before you buy. The only real reason left to go to a bookstore is to socialize. And I’m a naturally shy person who rarely talks to strangers anyway. What is left?