Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Story of St. Marks and the Death of the Bookstore

 Help Save St. Marks Bookshop

The headline appeared on my MediaBistro news feed, like an SOS. I read the article and wondered if the petition to cut the indie bookstore some slack on the rent was essentially a band-aid solution to a much bigger problem.

I think that problem was summed up in the following quote from the article: "You want to save St Marks Bookstore, go over there and buys [sic] some books from time to time." Yeah, there's the rub, huh?

So ... is the death of Borders helping the indie booksellers? Nope. Not really, according to this article in The Atlantic.

However, please note the following language buried toward the bottom of the page:

As online venues continue to take hold of the book market, independent shops may have to work harder to differentiate themselves as physical spaces for browsing books. Independent bookstores, many of their owners say, create an experience that can't be mimicked online by providing author readings, knowledgeable staff that can make personalized recommendations, and a hand-picked inventory that caters specifically to the clientele. [Scott] Abel, from Kramerbooks, echoes the inimitability of the bookstore experience, a space void of distractions and conducive to the primary task of pursuing interests and discovering new ones. "There's a downside to the phrase 'browsing on the interwebs,'" Abel says. "You don't find things you don't look for. In the bookstore, you're freer to explore the space."

As I like to say, sometimes you stumble across things offline that you just don't stumble across online, you know? :)

While it's questionable that Borders' end will yield dramatic benefits for independent shops, Abel views it as a symbolic affirmation of good bookstore values. He says that the depersonalized atmosphere of superstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble helped to foster an attitude of disrespect: if customers feel no intimate connection with a store, they are more likely to, say, copy lines out of a travel guide or treat books with a flippant disregard for the person who may chance upon the items next. "We can do without those behaviors. We could get back to a bookstore where people don't answer their phones, back to a bookstore where people value the books," Abel says, noting that even Costco, the monumental warehouse chain, sells books. "We were putting books in a space that shouldn't be selling books. It's not a pair of jeans at 40 percent off. It's a cultural artifact. It's knowledge."

And, as I also like to say, I may be an ebook author, but I'm not a number.

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