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E-books vs. the Bookstore

Whenever new technology gets introduced to the publishing trade, people are sure that the old formats are going to die -- at least, according to the lecture I attended back in 2000, back when the Sony RocketBook was the height of e-reading technology. According to the speaker (whose name I sadly cannot recall), when the mass market paperback was introduced, people proclaimed that it would be the death of the hardcover. The hardcover market has certainly changed, but those big boys are still around, and I know readers who vastly prefer them to the paperback counterparts.

So whenever people proclaim e-books as the death of print, I'm skeptical. E-books as the death of bookstores, however -- well, there seems to be something to that. Not on the whole, I think, but I do believe that the digital revolution helped bring about Borders's downfall. A recent article by Ben Austen in Business Week looks at the Borders situation and comes up with an interesting hypothesis about what it means for the bookselling business: it's possible that e-books may actually make it more likely for small bookstores to survive. People who shop at bookstores tend to want to be at bookstores -- they like the environment, and they may want a physical gift to give to someone rather than a digital download.

According to consultant Jeff Green: “It’s the only retail industry I can think of that will go full circle, back to the way it originally was. . . . From the small-village bookstore to the big-box retailer and then back again. That doesn’t ever happen in retail.”

The full article is pretty interesting, and I think there are some good insights, not just into why Borders failed, but into what the industry may need to consider in order to stay flying.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
Hardcovers vs. paperbacks
Books will continue to be published in both hardcover and paperback form. Otherwise Terry Gross would have to use some other excuse for playing yet another three-month-old interview on Frrrrrresh Air.
Nov. 17th, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Hardcovers vs. paperbacks
Nov. 17th, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty well convinced that ebooks could be throwing a lifeline to indie bookstores that play their cards right, for the same reasons as the article you quote. It's certainly true that the bookstore I worked in for a while had a very loyal circle of clients who, for the most part, would never dream of touching those e-reader things. (Unfortunately for the store in question, it's also a rapidly aging circle of clients, but that says more about the store than the industry). Ironically, it may be that Amazon and Apple are the other factors in this lifeline scenario, since the Kindle and IPad are likely to continue cornering the Nook out of the market.

On the other hand, I think the narrative that ebooks drove Borders out of business is really simplistic. Their failure to jump on the bandwagon with sufficient dexterity played a part, certainly, but Borders was already mired in business practices of questionable savvy and had this fantastic ability to piss off everyone else in the industry.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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