Like a Phoenix

Are the real winners of publishing’s digital revolution going to be independent bookstores? 

Borders has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for years. And now apparently Barnes and Noble is in trouble too. Once perceived as the commercial bullies that drove the beloved neighborhood indies out of business (See You’ve Got Mail) and threatened an entire culture of booklovers, these two big bads may be collapsing under their own weight. 

But is the bookpocalypse upon us? Will there really be a future with NO bookstores?  OR will the independent bookstore rise again out of the ashes of the big bad box stores?

I’d like to think the latter. It certainly makes a lot of sense to me. Ebooks are inevitably going to become the dominant “book” content vehicle of the future. As I’ve said before, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I love ebooks. But I also think there will always be a demand for print books. And if the big boxes do indeed die, the independent stores may step in to fill in the gaping hole the boxes leave behind. 

Sure, the numbers won’t be huge. They won’t be anything like we’ve seen before, nothing like the numbers that could sustain a Barnes & Noble in every mall. The demand for printed books isn’t going to be for 1 million of the latest Evanovich. Evanovich is going digital. As is the vast majority of popular fiction. That’s nothing to be sad about. I, personally, think it’s pretty exciting.

What I do fear, though, is the loss of the bookstore experience. I love browsing bookstores. But if I’m right, maybe that won’t be lost at all. People are still going to go to bookstores for odd books, old books, and illustrated books. They will go to get recommendations, buy hand-sold books, and to browse the shelves. They will attend book clubs and author events. People with children will go for storytime and to rediscover the books they loved as a child. Perhaps most importantly, they will go to meet up with a community of likeminded individuals. Because for all the benefits of Web 2.0 and social media, you do sometimes, just want to talk to a FACE now and then. And all the better if that face is talking about something you like, such as books.

If bookstores are reinvented as community and event spaces that happen to sell a product known as a book, maybe indie bookstores will thrive once again. But who knows? If I wishes were horses…or phoenixes as the case may be.

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