The San Jose Mercury News had an interesting editorial last week about the state of brick-and-mortar chain bookstores and how they're rapidly failing. Barnes and Noble has put itself up for sale, Borders is struggling. The author also suggested that no one really cares. The public isn't exactly cheering for the demise of these giants, but they're not weeping in their lattes either. And at first, I had a rather apathetic response to hearing how these stores were rapidly going downhill. I mean, come on, they had no qualms about opening shop and knocking the local book store owner right out of business. Fair's fair, right?
But then I thought a little further. How I love to walk into a bookstore, roam the aisles, pick up a book and read the back. When I buy books online, I generally know exactly what book I'm buying. I don't browse the cozy mysteries in hopes of stumbling across one to buy. Online shopping is too limiting in that regard. Even with Amazon's Look Inside feature, I still don't get a taste of the author's style. I can't flip to a random page and read an excerpt. Amazon can't provide the tactile joy that comes from holding a perfect, uncreased book in my hands.
And from an author's viewpoint, what of the traditional "Meet the Author" book signings? How will I market my book if, fingers crossed, I ever manage to get it published? Sure, even if the big chain stores fold, Walmart will still sell books, but I can't imagine sitting at a little folding table in the tire section, trying to convince someone to buy my book. Marketing has moved online, as has book shopping. It's become impersonal. Authors do blog tours or try to draw people to their web sites. While I'm ridiculously shy and would no doubt throw up if I ever had to host a book signing, there's something quaint and nice about it. But, doesn't the very word "quaint" mean old-fashioned? Something from the past that people find enjoyable yet obsolete? So perhaps it's time to move on, shift the book selling and buying experience completely to the web. But I'll miss those brick and mortar behemoths, those endless aisles, those bargain bins. But I'll have to adjust, as I did when cassette tapes disappeared, when I threw away my VCR tapes. I'm just not happy about it.