Does the demise of mega-book-seller Borders mean that independent bookstores, which shut down in droves over the past several years, will rise again?
Sadly, this seems unlikely due to the rapidly changing landscape of book-selling. Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association — a nonprofit that represents about 1,600 independent booksellers in the US — says that independent stores located near a shuttered, or soon-to-be shuttered, big box book store are certainly making the effort to attract former customers by, for instance, honoring Borders gift cards. The Atlantic describes some other ways:
… extending special discounts, offering space for book clubs that formerly met at Borders, and even running newspaper advertisements in the wake of Borders’ closing to remind book buyers of other existing options. “There is the beginning of at least a little evidence in some markets of the country where there was a Borders close by, that the nearby store has picked up on that business,” Teicher says. “This is the time to be as aggressive and out-front as one can.”
But the reality is that the independents and big bookstore chains are actually “not enemies but acquaintances that begrudgingly empathize with each other.” Their real competition is online e-tailers:
BookStats, a recent survey conducted by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, is underpinned by the recognition that the publishing industry, once a fairly focused entity, has transformed and differentiated significantly over the past decade. According to the survey, online retail “clearly” gained market share lost by other distribution channels between 2008 and 2010—a growth attributed to changing purchasing habits and the increasing popularity of e-books. Publishers reported a 55.2-percent increase in net sales revenue coming from online retail, resulting in$2.82 billion in 2010. As comparison, publishers’ 2010 revenue from independent retailers was $642 million and $3.06 billion from brick-and-mortar retail chains.
Opening an independent book store is no more viable than before. After all, here in the US you can buy books for 40 percent off at Costco.
It’s depressing news: Bookstores not only sell books but often serve as informal culture and community centers — even though so many of us (myself included) are switching to ebooks, there really is nothing like a “real” paper one. Nonetheless, I have a number of the textbooks for my classes in ebook form on my phone and my laptop. Just yesterday I was talking to my students about the far cheaper price for many e-textbooks, not to mention the convenience of carrying a Kindle or other device instead of heaving to schlep around a heavy bag (a serious issue for many of my students, who commute to college via public transportation).
But it’s still too early to write an elegy for all bookstores. The fact that so many have mourned the closure of Borders is a sign that people consider bookstores important. Elly Blue, who is on a month-long Dinner & Bikes tour around the western U.S.. proposes that bikes could play a part in bringing back the neighborhood bookstore. At a stop in affluent Santa Monica — which is full of bike enthusiasts but very short on bookstores — Blue describes the tour’s traveling bookstore, which contains books about bikes, urban gardening and radical movements. Writes Blue:
The demand we found in Santa Monica for independent bookstores and underground publishers means it’s only a matter of time before someone rises to fill the space left after the big-box crash. It’s a trend that parallels the rise of the bicycle movement: As society and individuals stagger under the ever-escalating costs of building and maintaining roads, filling up our gas tanks, and suffering the health and social consequences of auto-centric suburbs, many of us have turned back to the simplicity of the bike.
You could say that cars killed the independent bookstore: They fell prey to the same nexus of industrial, financial, and political maneuvering that created our car-oriented landscape. But bicycling could help bring them back. Right now, it feels good to know our tiny rental car carries both bikes and the promise of a new iteration of urbanism — one where everyone can afford to both travel at will, sit, and read a good book.
Could bikes help bring back bookstores at a local level?
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