The Death of the Bookstore?


Borders in San Mateo, California.

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Last week, Borders, a major player in the brick and mortar bookstore world, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Not good.

In the last two years they closed a bunch of their Waldenbooks and Borders Express’ and I’ve heard estimates that 50% of their stores will close in the next five years.

Again, not good. But is it a sign of things to come? Will other brick and mortar bookstores follow suit?

We can’t know that but the market sure looks like it’s heading that way. Which means both authors and publishers need to make adjustments. With the advent of e-readers like the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and iPad things are changing in the industry. Also, there’s that little thing of cost. Box stores like Borders simply can’t compete with the prices of discount retailers like Walmart and online retailers like Amazon.

In my own experience, I’ve been noticing an upswing in the sales of the electronic versions of my own books. More people are purchasing e-readers and buying e-books.

So will the brick and mortar store eventually meet its demise? Probably not, at least, not any time soon. There’s still something magical about walking an aisle of books and perusing titles and covers. What will happen, though, is that the box store accounts with publishers will get smaller, which is bad news for both publisher and author. The challenge then is for publishers to get more creative with their online presence and sales. And for authors to get more creative in driving customers to those outlets.

So here’s the question: How do you feel about all this? Do you prefer to shop online or in a store? Do you frequent the box stores, mom & pop booksellers, or shop discount stores? Do you have an e-reader and, if so, are your days of shopping for print books over?

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About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on February 15, 2011, in News, Writing Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. I don’t have any plans of getting an eReader, as I prefer my books on paper, and using computers and such for other things.
    I do purchase some books online, but I also like going to a Barnes & Noble or Books A Million, and searching the shelves for books, there’s something about that is very cozy and appealing.

    I think unfortunately eReaders will probably continue to gain in popularity, which I don’t really like that much, but I don’t think paper books will be going out just yet.

    Good blog post and a great one for discussion too. 🙂

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    • I agree, Kelly, there’s something comforting, peaceful, even awe-inspiring about being among shelves and shelves of books. Plus, I hate browsing the web, too much clicking and waiting and eye strain. I don’t have an e-reader and don’t know if one is in my future or not. For now, I’ll stick with my used paperbacks and bargain books.

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  2. I have a Kindle, and, I have to admit, I really like it. But not as much as I like actually sitting down with a cup of tea and blanket for a good read, with a book in hand. My preference is holding the actual, physical book in my hands.

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  3. I don’t own an eReader, and don’t plan on getting one. I love going to Borders and Barnes and Noble to browse, the problem is that I’m too cheap to buy at full retail price a lot of times. I go for ideas then hit the library or used book store.

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    • Honestly, that’s part of the problem. People are too cheap to purchase at the full retail price and then the books don’t sell off the shelves and then the booksellers like Borders don’t make enough money because of people going elsewhere. If you want that bookstore that you browse at for new titles to stay in business, you need to actually BUY BOOKS while you’re in the store.

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  4. Deb and Warren, I totally agree. I’d much rather hold a real book in my hands. And, Warren, the used bookstore is a great place to pick up books if you don’t mind some dog ears and creases.

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  5. Time for a little counterpoint here. I was like all of you saying I would never have an eReader. Publishers unwilling to provide print Advanced Readers Copies forced me into my NOOK Color but now I love the thing. Do I still go to my favorite used book store down the street and to sip coffee and wander at Books a Million? Sure. But I also sip coffee and Barnes and Nobles, download whatever book I like to my NOOK to read for free for up to an hour. That means I can download your book Mike, head to the park and continue reading. By the time that hour is up you can bet I would be rushing to buy Darlington Woods or Scream somewhere.

    A notable monk predicted that the Gutenberg Press would be the “death of books as we know it”. It was … and the birth of books as we now know them. Readership has been declining over the last 20 years so hopefully eReaders will persuade the next generation to rediscover the power of words.

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  6. iliveforhim1976@gmail.com

    I don’t want an e-reader. I can see myself reading my favorite book and the battery dies, I drop it and it breaks, I spill coffee on it which I have done on a regular book, or the many other hazards that come with reading. I also like holding a real book, the feel, the smell, etc.

    I personally go to the only RETAIL bookstore in town, Barnes and Noble, about 2 times per week, just to get a Coffee and browse. I love it.

    I can not, however, afford to BUY my books there. Or my MOVIES. 39.99 for a blu ray at Barnes and Noble that I can get at Best Buy, Amazon, Wal Mart or elsewhere for 20 bucks? I tend to buy my items at Amazon.
    They are cheaper, and unfortunately, they send it right to me. I usually spend more than 25 bucks on books and movies or whatever, so I get the free shipping.

    If Barnes and Noble’s prices were the prices at Wal Mart, Amazon, or other stores, I would have no problem paying the small amount of tax.

    I also buy a lot at used book stores. I find books for a dollar or less in most cases. I also buy to resell sometimes.

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  7. I don’t expect to make disciple of eReaders but would like some like you to see they will not kill books. Let me give you a real world example of something you cannot do readily with a paper book that you can with my NOOK.

    A friend of mine in Canada has never read Christian fiction. She lives far from any major shopping area. I offered to mail her a copy of a book by Randy Singer. I got the book for free but media rate postage alone was almost $10.00. Then I found out she has a NOOK. Using the “lend-me” feature I gave her permission to borrow my copy. She had it 3 minutes later, read it in a couple of days, and is now ordering a couple more of his from Amazon.

    Don’t worry – I dare say I have owned given away and bought more “real” books than most. I am staring right now at a pile of 30 novels yet to read for reviews and such. But I do like laying in bed at night in the dark, with my backlit NOOK and listening to Pandora radio through my ear buds as my wife sleeps peacefully beside me.

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  8. I hate seeing the bookstores close. It’s happening all around us in Cincinnati and I’m hoping our local Joseph-Beth Booksellers holds on. I know they closed out at least one other store. I shop everywhere, on-line, in the stores, love our Barnes and Noble too. We have 3 in great areas. I haven’t bought an e-reader yet but after reading this blog post over at the Killzone I’m going to make the leap soon. http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2011/02/quirky-ramblings-on-e-books-self_09.html

    I’ve wanted the Nook but I think I’m going for the Kindle. I’m like a yo-yo with that decision.

    Also, any writers on the loop may want to check out James Scott Bell’s post on Going E at http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2011/02/going-e.html

    It’s all fascinating. I still love to hold a real book in my hands.

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  9. Tim, I was hoping you’d chime in here knowing you recently got a Nook and love it. You make a very good argument, especially that the younger, more tech-savvy generation with shorter attention spans may dig all the bells and whistles the Nook affords (and I include you in that generation my friend 🙂 I imagine it’s a much more interactive reading experience.

    Let’s face it, the e-reader is the wave of the future. The print book won’t die any time soon, if ever, there are too many holdovers like the folk who’ve commented here to allow that to happen. But more and more the e-reader will gain popularity and as the reading experience enhances even more it will revolutionize the book industry. I picture authors not only writing a gripping story but coming up with a wide range of auxiliary material as well: links, graphics, statistics, annotations, commentary, etc.

    In my opinion, the e-reader is like the microwave oven or home computer. When they first came out they were a luxury but as their popularity grew and price dropped, they became a staple in every home. Technology is usually slow to catch on but eventually it sticks.

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  10. I do own an e-reader, but I actually prefer a paper copy of a book. I can keep them for future reference or have the delight of giving them away. I have a somewhat photographic mind and can find info I need by scanning through a paper book. Can’t do that on my e-reader. I especially want my non-fiction as a paper copy.

    I’ve thought of the dilemma of bookstores (not online), and came to the conclusion that they need to be competitive with online and discount stores in order to survive. Not sure how able they are to do this, but it’s a matter of life and death for their stores if they don’t. My financial circumstances dictate that I am not able to buy at regular stores because of their costs.

    I buy at regular stores when they have a good sale, otherwise I go through dealoz, Amazon or half-price bookstore.

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  11. I still like to browse bookstores to get ideas of books to read. It is appealing to see the covers, look at the synopsis of the book. I do have a Kindle but still love a bookstore. I would miss them dearly!

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  12. I want the physical sensory experience of browsing for books over a cup of really good coffee. The people who predict the demise of the bookstore compare it to the fate of the video rental store. They think that readers will take to Kindle the way that movie fans took to Netflix. It won’t happen. Spending and enjoyable afternoon in a nice bookstore is about as close to dashing in and out of a Blockbuster as a day at the beach is to 15 minutes in a tanning booth. I will occasionally buy online … always have … but I will still want to spend my time and money in the bookstore.

    — Judson

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    • Yet not everyone goes into a bookstore like that. There are a ton of people that go in with a general idea of what they want and get it and come out. Or they don’t know what they want and are just going in there because it’s at the mall and they may or may not buy something. And because of the Kindle and ordering online from Amazon (which deals with far more than just books anyway) there are people that go to the bookstore (as mentioned above in Warren’s comment) and don’t want to purchase full price, so they either go to Wal-Mart, order online from Amazon, go to a used bookstore (which doesn’t even have the latest books anyways), or go the cheapest route and visit the library. This mentality of getting the most for the least amount of money (which ironically ties in strangely with my fellow blogger Diane Graham’s latest post at the NAF blog – http://newauthors.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/entertaining-modern-morons) is what will be the ultimate downfall of the bookstore as we know it, and if they don’t change tactics, the bookstore period (as opposed to just the bookstore as we know it). So, just because you still want to spend your time and money in the bookstore (as do I when I can afford to), that doesn’t mean the majority out there want to do that, so the casual book reader will turn to ordering off of Amazon and getting a Kindle or a Nook and the rest of us that (gasp!) actually like to go into a building full of books will have to see those buildings dwindle away in vacancy. Unless something innovative comes along to change things that is.

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  13. Is the problem that people are too cheap to pay full price for a book or is it good old capitalism in action? Competition, supply and demand. Why pay full price at a box bookstore when you can get the exact same item at a discounted price elsewhere? I don’t see the problem so much with the consumer as I do with the retailer. As mentioned above in a couple comments, these bookstores need to wake up and start being competitive with their pricing. Sadly, the American people don’t care so much for customer service and atmosphere (thus the popularity of such places like Walmart where both are virtually non-existent) as they do for saving a buck. As a result, we’ve seen customer service go by the wayside and those retailers banking on “atmosphere” are suffering.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love browsing a bookstore and perusing shelves but in the end, my money is limited and I need to get the best buy for my buck like anyone else. That’s the new economic climate.

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  14. I have just this week got an e-reader. Don’t know how to use it yet. And Amazon and I are good friends. But I spend a lot of times in a bookstore. Whether it is Borders, Barnes and Nobles, or one of the half price books, I like going to bookstores. I like looking at all the books, checking the back covers or reading a page or two. And I would be very sad if all the bookstores were to close. The e-reader looks to be great, but there is something about a book in your hand. The different sizes and different weights. If we are attacked or electronically zomped (yeah probably not a real word), like the EMP (I think it is called that), then all our electronic devices will be gone – not useful – lost. Having tangible books will be what keeps a lot of people sane should that time ever come.

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    • I fully agree with you. Dependence on electronics has never been a good thing. Just look at what happened during the Y2K scare and how even after all the precautions which kept things quite smooth, there were still some computers that temporarily went down at various times during the year change. I remember being on Amtrak travelling hours before it was to be midnight and the train just stopped and the lights went off and everything. It was really strange, but everyone took it good naturedly. About ten to fifteen minutes later the train was back up and running and we were on our way. But I can imagine that if it hadn’t, within a fairly short enough time that good naturedness would turn to frustration anxiety and paranoia depending on each person’s mental/emotional make-up.

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  15. I would definitely rather shop at a physical store than a internet shop. You’re right there is something magical about searching through the shelves for that special book. I think I might die if they stopped selling physical books.

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