Where are the bookstores of yesteryear?

by kipress

My first post, and the closure of two recently opened McNally-Robinson locations is crying out for comment.

I’m saddened by the closures. I love bookstores, but it’s starting to feel like a nostalgic kind of love, like my love of developing my own photos (you’ve heard of film?), letterpress printing, and correct, or at least plausible, punctuation.  Despite being a writer whose book sales ostensibly depend on independent bookstores like McNally, I’m as guilty as anybody for largely having abandoned brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon is both cheaper and more convenient. Other bookstore lovers may protest here, but I’m just trying to be realistic.

Of course, Amazon can’t beat bookstores at some things, like events, helpful staff, browsing… all of which has been said before, so I won’t dwell on it. The shaky ground on which McNally now stands has been trodden by many the bookstore before it (even Chapters), and I’m not the analyst to tell you if this round of ruination is the result of hasty expansion or the omnipresent publishing world questions: Whither the bookstore? Whither the book? Yadda, yadda, yadda. (I’m only yadda-ing because if you read book blogs, as I do, you’ll know that this discussion comes up about every other paragraph.)

I’m boldly predicting a brave new world, not tomorrow, but some time in the future—say 30 years—in which e-readers, in whatever form they work themselves out into, are pervasive enough so everyone either has one or has access to them through schools and libraries. E-readers will be the normal way to read both books and periodicals. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the e-books were full of ads.

New books, as we know them, will be like vinyl is now: reserved for total nerds. Only, since we’ll pay through the nose for them (because not only will they have lost the economy of scale needed to produce them cheaply, there will hardly be any trees left), they’ll also be a status symbol. So only books appealing to nerds (including artists) and the wealthy will be produced. Children’s books will also have a market, maybe a subsidized one (because you still won’t be able to trust a two-year-old with an e-reader). Printed books will be sold through specialty channels—bookstores resembling art galleries—or ordered directly from the publishers.

Books will become truly antiquated. (Whither libraries? Whither used bookstores?) People will eventually dispose of them, assuming that Google or somebody has scanned them already. (Though, on the bright side, unlike recorded music, books won’t rely on old technology to be readable, so more people will keep them around than they will, say, CDs.)

All that is crazy talk. For now.