We Have to Consider the Future of Bookstores


(Note: Due to the extensive lack of bookselling statistics here in Egypt, the article will focus on US booksellers and bookstores in general)

So I have this thing about bookstores, whenever I walk by them it’s sort of, like, you know when you go into a huge supermarket and they pump scented air throughout the whole place to make the consumers feel good? Well, whenever I walk by a bookstore I do get the smell of books in my face and I just have to go in. I could spend an hour there. The reason why I usually have to leave is because I start to feel lightheaded and I realize that I missed something that I had to do (mostly eating lunch) and that I was supposed to do this thing, write a new article, and move on with my day.

Anyways, I read this article on Fortune Magazine before and it has gotten me thinking about it. See, the article said that Barnes & Noble, The United States’ largest national bookstore chain, has predicted in 2013 that it will lose more money than even Wall Street had predicted it would, and this is after the bankruptcy of Borders Group, its main competitor. The specter of E-books with Amazon and its Kindle as a dominant force is already threatening to diminish this last chain of booksellers, and if they do, you might be left buying your favorite bestsellers at megamarkets.

Bookstores around the country might be the last hope for print books and publishers like Penguin and other international booksellers who use the front of the store’s display table to showcase new talents in writing and their debut books and push the next big thing.

To fight off the Kindle, Barnes & Nobles has the Nook (a tablet designed specifically for reading) and it has boosted some revenue to the company, though it’s hard to fight off both Amazon and Apple at the same time. Demos Parneros, the CEO of Barnes & Noble, and his predecessor, William Lynch, have done everything they possibly can to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. But his company is worth almost $1 billion, while Amazon’s worth over $430 billion(!).

I guess we’ll see how it all plays out, but I stopped for a minute to wonder if there is something lost by the digitizing of books in the possible end of bookstores sometime in the near – or the far, for what it’s worth – future. It’s safe to say that someone reading a book on their Kindle, Google Books, Nook, or whatever platform/website they’re reading on is having an experience which is negligibly different from reading a paper book. The story is still there, the words arranged as they are and still produced the same magic, the same music of mental images that only pros can make. That won’t be lost.

But I guess what I fear is not the death of stories, but rather the end of the physical space which these stories take up. Walking through the stacks and shelves bookstores, all our past and present’s looms cast shadow on you. Maybe you get a more accurate sense with all that papered space of the distance we’ve come as a thinking race. It’s like a real, living, interactive timeline. It’s not the same with a selection of e-books on your smartphone or your iPhone; There’s no space there, just scrolling. You can’t see each and every page tightened against each other and you can’t see the overstock, the display table, or the books people have taken out of their shelves but decided not to buy.

So there’s a million variable in a bookstore, variables stretched over space and time, and it’s true that sometimes the book, like a magic ring, can find you. And maybe there’s an alchemy in that which would be a shame to lose. That or maybe I’m just being sentimental.