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How will disappearing bookstores affect you?

Borders helped groom a generation of readers to learn the pleasure of diving into a book for hours at a stretch in a comfy space outside home and work. But the nationwide bookstore chain is struggling to survive. It recently suspended payments to book publishers. And dozens of its stores around the country, including several in the Washington area, have closed. Once, Borders was, along with rival Barnes and Noble, the long tail of reading, with vast aisles of shelves offering thousands of obscure titles alongside the bestsellers. Now, Borders confronts the limitless, cheaper and more efficient supply chain of Amazon's warehouses and e-bookstore. Now, according to many in the industry, the question is not whether the chain will go under, but when.

By Ryan Kellett  |  January 19, 2011; 3:51 PM ET  | Category:  National Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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These poll choices are not very well formulated.

Many of the books I buy are fairly arcane and available only online (often, only from Amazon). But some books I need to hold in my hand and flip through before I buy. Or perhaps I'm buying a book as a gift and want to browse.

It would have been nice to have an option reflecting that.

Posted by: Itzajob | January 20, 2011 9:45 PM

As always these polls are poorly designed. While the answer to the question is a simple "yes" or "no" the options seek to uncover something which the question is not constructed to discover.

How many ways can the loss of something affect a person?

I buy the majority of my books from bookstores including Borders.

Why?

Because I like to go into the store and actually browse and see what is available and test read a few pages. I like to talk to Gerrardo, the little man in big, black-framed bi-focals who sprays the fake flowers and sweeps the front sidewalk. I like to take the 45 minute drive to an old farmhouse turned bookstore because I like to feel and smell the early editions of "Home Ecco" and "Paradise Lost" and discover unknown treasures soon to be dust.

Bookstores are not just about books. They are at the root of our humanity; a reflection of early community.

Unfortunately, capitalism will claim another bastion of civility and enlightenment, sacrificing the stuff that dreams are made of on the bloodied alter of inhumane avarice.

Posted by: topwriter | January 20, 2011 11:13 PM

Well, I'm a real book addict and former bookstore owner.
It's not easy to be in the book business.
There is a lot of limitations that make it difficult.
A large inventory of stock costs money; there is constant turnover, as new books come into the marketplace.
The margin on which to generate profit to pay the bills is limited.
Prices constantly rise, which in recessions make book purchases more difficult or delayed until the paperback is issued.
There's a discount war with the local Wal-Mart and some other retailers on best-selling books.
I don't have an e-reader; I like the feel and texture of the page, and its permanance.
The first month Amazon sold Kindles, the e-reader file on a book ran afoul of a publisher's wishes.
People who had purchased the e-reader edition and perhaps started reading the book, awoke the next morning, mystified that the file had suddenly disappeared from their e-reader because of the dispute.
If a book is released and a recall is attempted, the recalled books on the shelves that remain unsold can be taken down, but the sold copies then become a premium collector's item; not so the file on the e-readers.
Why?
Because Amazon had the ability in the middle of the night to reach out and eradicate the file.
That's when I decided I'll stick with real books, thank you.
We don't have a Borders; we have Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.
I'm a Barnes & Noble customer; they are wonderful and helpful.
I look up the books on-line, then call my local B&N and order the books through them, so they get the money.
This past Christmas, our entire Christmas list was purchased at our local B&N.
They love us. :-)
I'm sorry to see this change in the book business and hope our bookstores can survive.
We're doing our part.
But then, the walls in our home are bolstered with books, much beloved.
Purchases on-line of books out of print is a wonderful pleasure; so there is a place for on-line shopping.
However, there's nothing like holding a book and looking through its pages to sell that book, and later, to get a good drink, a comfortable chair and to settle in for a delicious read.
There's nothing quite like it.
I can't quite take an e-book so seriously.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | January 21, 2011 1:50 AM

I agree with others about the choices. I love books and love bookstores but my children gave me a kindle a year ago and I have since moved most of my purchases to e-books.
I am slowly giving away many of the books that I have covering the walls of my home (10 6-shelf bookcases) although any book that has multiple illustrations or that I will read over and over stays.
I enjoy the bookstore ambiance, I love to sit back with a cup of coffee and browse through the books, I will miss the bookstores but, unfortunately for them, the world has evolved and many book-aholics now get their "fix" through on-line merchants such as Amazon.
The same thing is happening to video-rental stores and record (cd) stores, much can be done on-line with a wider selection.

Posted by: FortBliss | January 21, 2011 4:11 AM

I buy books online as well as in person, in paper and electronic format, depending on the book. Bookstores are nice because I can browse more easily. I am often drawn by cover art or an interesting display. However, they often are missing book 1 of a series (or have book 1 and 3 but not 2) which forces me to shop online anyway. Plus, my local one can be very noisy at times, which really makes me eager to just select a purchase and get out of there.

So, while I am sad to see Borders struggle, our new information age means that bookstores need to adapt or die. It's the way the free market works.

This Christmas, almost 100% of my shopping came from Amazon, because my local Borders is too unpleasant during Christmas shopping season. I really dislike shopping.

Posted by: DCCubefarm | January 21, 2011 6:55 AM

Like most of the people who take the time to comment on articles like this, I buy books both online and at stores, Borders in particular. I also owned a (used) book shop for 23 years and made money every year, but when during the last 5 years I discovered that all of the profit was coming from posters, I saw the writing on the wall.

The problem facing stores like Borders is both simple and permanent: They can't compete on price, and they can't compete on selection. And one factor that the article didn't mention was all those 33%, 40% and even 50% Borders discount coupons that arrive in your inbox once or twice a week. That may work to move inventory, but it certainly can't do much for their bottom line. I buy about 75 to 100 books a year from Borders, Amazon, and the Daedalus warehouse in Columbia, and even though the number of books I buy from those three outlets is evenly distributed, I'll bet that about 90% of the profit from my purchases is made either by Amazon or Daedalus.

The only way out for the brick and mortar stores is to follow the Politics & Prose model of daily readings, dozens of book clubs, early and late hours, a coffee shop, and a constantly updated stock that reflects the tastes of its customers.

Oh, and one other thing: It helps to be located in a neighborhood of $200,000 incomes and a recession-proof housing market, with a customer base that doesn't seem to mind paying full price for books that it knows it can get cheaper elsewhere. Unfortunately for most stores, those sorts of optimal conditions aren't easy to duplicate....

Posted by: andym108 | January 21, 2011 8:39 AM

Man, lighten up folks. This is simply a poll to get the gist of peoples feelings. It's not intended to measure every possibility. That said, I love bookstores. They are a haven, and I will buy only paper books. I'll never read from an electronic device. I enjoy the weight, feel and attachment a book gives. I'll tolerate the weight, bulk and cost of the real thing. I have bought some obscure titles from Amazon, but the experience is not satisfying. Should large bookstores disappear, I'll continue to use independent and used books stores.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 21, 2011 3:03 PM

Man, lighten up folks. This is simply a poll to get the gist of peoples feelings. It's not intended to measure every possibility. That said, I love bookstores. They are a haven, and I will buy only paper books. I'll never read from an electronic device. I enjoy the weight, feel and attachment a book gives. I'll tolerate the weight, bulk and cost of the real thing. I have bought some obscure titles from Amazon, but the experience is not satisfying. Should large bookstores disappear, I'll continue to use independent and used books stores.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 21, 2011 3:12 PM

I agree with many posters that the choices are too narrow. I don't use book stores as meeting places or to work/study. I buy most of my books online but I will still go into a bookstore if I happen to be near one and have some time on my hands or if I'm shopping for a gift. However, I won't go out of my way to visit a bookstore when buying online is so much easier and usually less expensive. Also, having an e-reader has made buying and reading books so much more convenient. With the exception of coffee table books (those with lots of photos or illustrations), an e-book just makes more sense.

I don't understand the luddite mentality of those who must have "real" books. I don't want to eliminate paper books but we could produce fewer of them. Killing trees for paper is something we should do less of. Books should be about the words and the skill of the writer at putting those words together...reading them on a screen shouldn't make any difference.

Luddites, it's time to face the reality of technology. I think there will come a time when e-books will be the primary source and printed versions will be available as an option. A reverse of when e-books first appeared.

Like LP's, vintage clothing and classic cars, I think there will always be a market for printed books...just a smaller one.

Posted by: mt44321 | January 21, 2011 4:28 PM

So far, I don't have an e-reader. Maybe if I were going to a desert island, I'd get one. I'd worry about everything from spilling on it and dropping it to losing it, or forgetting to replace batteries (don't they work on batteries?)

There are advantages to real bookstores - browsing, of course - one cannot buy every book. And bookstores often have books not in libraries.

A great advantage of browsing, even if one has an idea of what one will buy, is finding things one didn't know about. I've done my share of online shopping, especially for older books, but I never would have found online some of the books I now have, because I wouldn't have known about them. By looking in bookstores, one can encounter books that a simple "search" wouldn't have turned up. And in shopping for gifts, it's particularly helpful to be able to look over a book or other item to be sure it's suitable for the intended recipient.

I've wondered about the Borders coupons - maybe they should be phased out - although they might encourage someone like me, who lives farther away, to use them, because they more than offset the cost of my gas to get to and from the store.

Libraries are underused by many people, whose taxes are paying for them. And some libraries are phasing out books in favor of electronic media, too. Mainly, the request "lines" for library books are becoming impossibly long. I read about a library that had 20 copies of a book, which is a lot, but 152 patrons waiting to read it. Library budgets are being cut, and sometimes if one wants to read a book, one almost has to buy it.

If we borrow books - from libraries or friends - whenever we can, that reduces the number of trees used to make them. But don't forget that production of e-readers also has ecological consequences.

I used to work in a bookstore, and I was impressed to see how many people not only gave books, some rather expensive, as presents, but went out and bought books they had already seen on TV as movies. It is a rare film that's as good as the book it's made from. Some books may supplement what one has seen, or read about, maybe, in the paper.

Before we start "trashing" paper media, consider newspapers. They are taking a beating, too. But the world could hardly get along without them.

Bookstores may become less common, but they have a place in the world, and we would be much poorer without them.

Posted by: Opinionator2 | January 21, 2011 5:10 PM

Mt44321, not everyone reads the kind of popular trash that is available on Kindle.

Posted by: Itzajob | January 22, 2011 2:27 PM

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