Gabrielle Bisset

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why The Death of The Bookstore Matters

I saw an article about Barnes and Noble closing a number of its brick and mortar stores, even in major US cities. My area lost its Borders and we got a Books A Million a few months later in its place. To say it's a pale replacement is understating it. BAM even charges for use of its WiFi, which tells me the place will be out of business sooner than later.

Borders had put all the independent bookstores out of business when it came here, so many saw its closure and company failure as just desserts. The same is now being said for B&N. While all that may be true, I mourn the death of the physical bookstore.

You see, even though I'm an indie who makes her living in ebooks, I still love paperbacks. I've heard all the excuses as to why it's time to chuck them--they take up space, I can carry a whole library on one ereader, and on and on--but here's the truth of it for me: books are more than just story vehicles. They are a tactile event, a sensory enjoyment that ereaders just don't offer. I love the feel of a paperback or hardcover book in my hand. The feel of the pages as I flip through them on my way to another world is unique. The smell of a book brings all sorts of memories to my mind, and when I'm done with a book, that story is added to those memories, making them richer.

No ereader can give me that.

I don't give a damn for carrying an entire library in my purse. When the hell do I have time to read 3000 books anyway?

For me, that's the real sadness at the death of the bookstore. Yes, there were always those people who did the Evelyn Wood speed reading thing. Good on them. For me, reading was never a sprint. It was never a race at all. I don't like speed in most things, to be honest. I like my food cooked slow, my sex to take time, and my books to linger. Books you hold in hand let you linger on them. They weren't simply words on a screen you pushed through to make it to the next group of words. They were things you held dear, displayed in your home, handed down to your loved ones.

The death of the bookstore signals the death of the book as I love it. No one is handing down ebooks to their kids. Once they're read, they vanish into the Already Read folder or worse yet, they're deleted, not even worthy of a memory. To me, that's something to mourn.

What's more, with books meaning so little, it's expected that the price should follow. Free books are the bane of the author, despite what many ebook authors think. To spend your time crafting a story that has meaning and characters that are more than flat, cardboard things moving across a page only to give it away in the desperate hope that someday readers will see your work as worth more than nothing is simply insane to me. I have no doubt it helps sales of other books in the short run, but to represent your work as worth nothing says a lot to me.

And readers complain that there's so much bad out there, but are they truly valuing books in any real way or just snapping up free books to pile up on the ereader? Like the arguments for the ereaders, I've heard the ones from fellow authors in favor of the free book concept. "Other businesses give stuff away all the time. It's good business sense." "It helps my other books sell and since I'm not big, it gives readers the opportunity to take a chance on me."

Well, I have never gotten much free in my life and what I did receive for free was usually junk. I guess in my 45 years I've had a different experience with free. And I ask you this: what other major industry gives so much away for free that charging for items is seen as a problem? As for the idea that I'm not big so I should give my work away, I've written for years, edited for a decade, earned an English degree and a history degree, and I've had enough education to allow me to be a college prof. That at the moment I'm not with a NY publisher simply means I haven't gone that direction. You want street cred? Read any of my books and see what I offer. Or if you're feeling pinched for cash, read the previews of any or all of my books and see that I have the skills that allow me to charge for my craft.

The death of the bookstore is more than people out of jobs and fewer places to find coffee and pastries. It's the spreading of a disease that if allowed to fester, will result in no value being placed on books or reading. Reading is worth the time and money spent on it. To devalue that is to devalue ourselves.


julie beasley said...

nice post Gabrielle, i still love to hold a book in my hands, i feel like im going on a magical journey. ive probably got enough to open a second hand book shop. i have books from the 80 = 90 i will never part with. but, for travelling an e reader or an audio book are very good. it just seems that everything is digital today

Gabrielle Bisset said...

Thanks for stopping by, Julie! I think it's the attitude that nothing is worth keeping that makes me sad.

sherry fundin said...

I agree with Julie about everything being digital these days. I am also a photographer and I fought changing to digital until it became almost impossible not to.

I fought cable way back when and I stalled getting an ereader, until my husband bought me one for my birthday. It is great for travel and I read on it a lot.

Still, there is nothing like holding a paperback or hardcover in my hand. I have a passion for paper. lol

I love the freebies, but like you said, who can read all those, plus they get lost in the reader. Although it does have some merit for the exposure.

A physical book sits in its proper order on my shelf, waiting to be read for the first time, some of them for the third or fourth. I find it hard to believe I will go back in the reader and reread, no matter how much I liked the book.

Thanks for the great post!!!!

ldd6853 said...

Thanks so much for sharing this Gabrielle!!

I'm so glad that other people still think like I do when it comes to books. While I love my e-reader, I would choose a book over my e-reader anytime.

I mainly use my e-reader for e-book only releases, or for reading while I am traveling. I still buy books (hardcover or paperback) for new releases or when I find them at our local used book store.

I recently had to get a second bookcase in my home office to hold all of my books. I've already told my husband that when our 20 year old son moves out, I'm turning his old room into my new office/library since it's bigger. ;)

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I think it is sad that bookstores are closing down. I don't think it is just ebooks that are doing it though. I think it is online purchases of physical books from competitors like Amazon as well. I don't think there is anything like a physical book and I don't think they can be replaced. Business models need to be adjusted so we can keep our book stores.