Are E-Books Proving Poetic Justice To Major Booksellers?
Borders books has announced that it's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closing about one-third of its stores. Barnes & Noble has already begun closing some of their locations, including the near-iconic flagship in Lincoln Center in New York City.
We've seen this before.
Just like MP3 technology killed the record store chains (seen a Towers Records lately?), e-books are positioned to wipe out major book retailers. Call it karmic justice.
A generation ago, someone had a great idea. Wouldn't it be nice to sell coffee and food and all kinds of lifestyle-related stuff at a bookstore? This strategy would increase browsing time, open up new revenue streams, make for a comfortable retail environment and allow people to sample books before they buy. Great idea.
Local bookstores like the much-missed Shakespeare Books in Manhattan provided local havens for book lovers and began a renaissance in sales that did not go unnoticed by large chains. In fact, B&N thought it was such a good idea that they copied it—producing the mega bookstores we all know and patronize. In the process, they all but vaporized the local bookstore and erased the charm and sense of community that those establishments created.
However, the e-book is providing a bit of karmic retribution. Their fast success is the big bookseller's fast demise. Both of the large players are scaling back, and out of necessity, have begun selling e-readers just to keep customers. That's called cannibalizing your product—a last-ditch effort for relevance in a rapidly changing world.
With the ability to buy a book anywhere one may be, like in their own home, we just don't seem to need the megastore experience anymore. At least not the semi-institutional feel of the megastores we know.
I can't help but feel that this movement may ultimately promote more localized experience where ambience and community once again matter... where the neighborhood bookstore is once again a gathering place for true knowledge-seekers.
In the end, that would truly be poetic justice.