Borders is closing its stores. What does it mean for our culture?

Today it has been announced that Borders is closing all its stores. You can read the story here. Big questions remain to be answered about what this will mean for the book industry. Bigger questions revolve around whether our culture is witnessing a significant change.

We love to read, but are we becoming less interested in books? I hope not, but there are signs that Americans are becoming more interested in reading bite-sized chunks than full-length works. Our busy-ness is eating into our literary appreciation.

Maybe it's just that Amazon is more convenient and cost-effective than Borders (I order from Amazon all the time). That would be better news... I think. But with the growth and dominance of Amazon, many neighborhood bookstores are shutting their doors. Will bookstores become scarce? If so, what will be the effect? What would happen if we lost the ability to go to a bookstore, scan the many sections, and wander over to spend a few minutes browsing through books we might never buy? What if we could no longer pluck a book off a long shelf and thumb through its pages? Being able to hold a book and skim through it is different from reading other readers' reviews of the book or even view the "Look Inside" on an Amazon web page.

Regarding electronic readers, I don't own one... yet. I like the feel of a book in my hands. But many Americans are making the switch. What is the cultural effect of this change? Time will tell. Maybe some day instead of talking about "the Good Book" we will reverently refer to "the Good File."


Comments

  1. David, you raise good questions but I would add (asan owner of both a Kindle and an iPad with the Kindle app), I have experienced the impact that Amazon has confirmed thru surveys & data analysis, that E-Reader users increase their reading approx 60%. In the first two years of reading on my Kindle and iPad, I personally read over 78 books. I would guess that in the previous 10 years I had not come close to reading more than 4 books per year. I'm not suggesting it makes that significant an impact on everybody, but when I couple my personal experience with the Amazon statistics, plus the fact that Amazon's monthly sales of E-books surpassed printed books several months ago, I fear the big book chains are all in peril. On the other hand, maybe this will actually help the local, small Mom & Pop book stores to survive by offering a special/unique environment for folks like you & my wife (& undoubtedly many others) who want to feel & smell a "real" book in their hands.

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  2. I think we are more than likely sitting at the precipice of a major change in mediums. Much in a similar way that the codec replaced the scroll, the eBook is little by little replacing the codec, a change 2000 years in the making. I now do most of my reading on an iPad or a Kindle, and I find that I am reading much more than ever before. Maybe it's the psychological barrier of not holding a book in my hands that makes me feel more inclined to read more, But I know that for some reason I'm enjoying it much more than I used to. I don't know if the printed page will ever disappear entirely, but companies will need to embrace the digital revolution in it's entirety alongside their print offerings much like what Barnes & Noble and Amazon are doing.

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  3. Paul and Michael,

    Interesting comments and observations! You have both moved me closer to purchasing a Kindle. I hesitate to buy an iPad, since I recently heard Apple will not allow files to be read on iPad that weren't purchased from the iTunes store. If that's true, it's disappointing. Reminds me of something Microsoft would do, wanting to control their market share but in turn creating a lot of ill will with users.

    If electronic readers increase the reading of books, I'm all in favor. Reading of books is what is culturally important. If people read tweets and snippets but not books, then we become a less literate and less informed culture. Books enhance our critical thinking skills, and critical thinking is... well, critical for a culture, especially a culture saturated in information. Therefore, if electronic media increase the reading of books, I support e-readers.

    I do like the feel and smell of a book in my hands, but maybe it's time for me to embrace this part of the digital revolution. :-)

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