An OBS Speaks Out brought to you by OBS contributor Rose.
“Are brick-and-mortar bookstores doomed? People have been predicting the downfall of physical bookstores for quite some time, but with many stores vanishing and shelf selections getting much worse, the warnings have gotten more dire lately.”
Those were the first words written in this article from io9.com titled ‘Bookstores Are Dead (If You Want Them To Be)’. It pained me to hear how so many bookstores will be closing and I thought about how life would be if bookstores ceased to exist entirely. It disturbed me and perturbed me.
I wouldn’t know what to do if all the bookstores closed up shop. My favorite past time is entering a bookstore and proceeding to get lost for hours in the aisles of print. What past time? I still do it today. Book browsing is such a tactile experience. The cover art, the heft of the book, glimpsing at the blurb on the back cover and then ruffling through the innards to capture snippets of conversation or read a passage about a far away land, all the while deciding whether it’s worth purchasing. Bookstores are like libraries to me, except of course all books are new and once you check em out, you can’t check em back in.
Bookstores bring another level of book browsing experience to us. As you look around, you noticed who is in what section of the store. Who is looking at books in the self-help aisle, do they have a friend with alcoholism, did they just get divorced, are they looking to spice up their sex life? It’s as if you’re a inconspicuous fly on the wall, watching a private experience, even just for a moment.
I recently was in the horror/fantasy nook of my trusty Barnes and Noble, and I was surprised to see the types of people lurking around the Graphic Novel section. I saw an older woman in her late fifties and a suited straight-laced gentleman about forty. Of course, you also have your stereotypical teen or obvious thirty-year-old comic lover. After one girl plucked her choice off the shelf I went over to see what she chose out of curiosity. Being in a bookstore is like being inside a science experiment. Slues of microorganisms get to run amok in an agar laced Petri dish. Books being the agar, the agent that allows us to grow (intellectually).
One big advantage bookstores have is…other people. You can ask someone else’s opinion on a title, or have a conversation about existentialism with the dude next to you in the Philosophy section. You can’t do that on Amazon.
Whatever is “in” dominates shelves. I can totally understand that. I also understand that a bookstore cannot hold every title of every genre, especially certain obscure science fiction titles or fantasy and the like. As far as I can remember that was never the case. I have yet to find a problem locating a title that interests me, but I have had issue with a book being sold out. In that case, I have them order it for me. You might say well isn’t that akin to ordering a book online? In some respect of course, but on the other hand I’m still in the store ordering it and upon pick up. So it’s the same experience in my book. (Heh heh).
Buying books online is quite convenient yet there is a sort of disconnect between you and the actual book. One points and clicks and orders within the comfort of their own home. The titles available are endless. There are wish lists and reviews. Sure, this is fantastic. I’ve ordered over hundred books online. When books arrive on my doorstep, I rush to open the box; I take out each book, flipping them over in my hand, almost caressing them and peek inside, and smile with glee. I do not put the books away the moment they are received; I savor them first, even piling the stack (if I bought that many) on my counter for an hour. As I pass them I’ll pick one up and look at it again. Call me strange, but that is the experience a bookstore brings to begin with, called contact.
What a bookstore also brings is new and different books that come across our radar as we glance. I have gotten countless books because I ‘happened’ upon them by accident. I’m not against online ordering, don’t get me wrong, I just want to maintain the bookstore option as well.
I really do hope that bookstores don’t become a thing of the past. For it will totally change our experience with books and leave a gaping hole of leisure time to fill for those who love to wander them for few hours.
How would you feel if physical bookstores were no longer in existence? Do you think it would change the book buying experience for the better or worse? How do you purchase most of your books?