Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Does This Come in Twain?

Let me get this out of the way up front: I don't have an e-reader, of any kind, and this is solely due to budgetary constraints and an unwillingness to pay money for something I can't really justify. That said, I want one, especially after my last move when I schlepped ten boxes of books down three flights and then up two flights of stairs. An electronic library seems like a good thing to me after that.

That said, as much as I see the appeal of them, I don't think books are ever going to go completely away. I say this as a response to a local headline about how Barnes and Nobles is in trouble. The article itself dealt more with the idea that a number of smaller local bookstores are still doing okay. This is where I think the future of books probably lies. They aren't ever going to go away. There will still be books. But they will revert back to what they were before the invention of the paperback: a specialty item, a luxury for those with the extra cash willing to spend it on a physical investment.

This also means there will always be a need for stores, of some form or another. Now, don't go buying or selling stock on my account. I do not have an MBA or anything else related to business. I do own stocks. Couldn't begin to tell you how they are doing at any given moment, other than the market is up, which means my stocks probably are, too. I do happen to think that if we move back towards books as a specialty item, the big box stores like B&N are going to have difficulties with that model. But it also strikes me as a perfect niche for smaller bookstores, although probably not as many of them and in smaller, more populated markets where they can sustain themselves.

Which brings me to the other reason I think there will always be bookstores, in some form or another. Bookstores have an advantage over online markets in one, key element: the ability to browse.  The one thing I am more likely to do in a physical bookstore, the one thing I find easier to do in an actual space, is to wander around and see what else strikes my interest. This is harder to do on Amazon. Oh, sure, Amazon recommends things to me and I check them out, but those recommendations are based on past history, and therefore don't fall outside of certain parameters.

Whereas in the store, I can wander into a section I might almost never read from, and still come across something that interests me. Case in point is the non-fiction book I'm reading at the moment. It happened to be on display at the front of the library. Had I not been in the library, had the book not been on display, it's unlikely I would have ever heard of it, much less read it. But there it was, and it's been an enjoyable and informative read.

It's like shopping for clothes. Sure, you could do it online. (Or at least, I could. I know my sizes, and men's apparel tends to run pretty consistently, although I understand it's not quite so straightforward for women.) But you are exposed to a greater variety, more likely to find that item that you didn't necessarily go into the store for but end up wanting to buy anyway. It's the physical presence of the object that inclines us to buy it as much as anything else. It's also something you can't duplicate online, not really.

Least not until Amazon starts randomly generating suggestions, and I don't see them ever doing that.

I'm not trying to predict the future, here. I did a little of that in the sci-fi piece I wrote back in high school, and looking at it twenty years later made me cringe. Not so much for the work itself, which wasn't all that bad if I made allowances for my age and the passage of time and experience, but for some of the "futuristic" ideas I put down on the page. Ideas which look hopelessly dated. But I do think I can say with a certain amount of confidence that there will continue to be a market for physical books, and that so long as that market exists, there will be bookstores.

And so long as there are bookstores, I will continue to wander into them.

No comments: