A World Without Bookstores?

Photo credit: phototakeouterBX on Flickr
A couple days ago, some disheartening news about Barnes & Noble was unleashed upon the literary world. In short, Barnes & Noble has suffered some very serious losses last fiscal quarter, giving many a sense of saddened deja vu. Because we’ve seen this before, and it didn’t end well for Borders. 

While I’m still holding out hope for a Barnes & Noble recovery, it does make me wonder what would happen if the last major chain bricks-and-mortar bookstore went under. 

While a world without bookstores would certainly make me very sad, I do believe that the book world would survive. Readers would continue reading and writers would continue writing—they’d just go about getting their books a little differently. 

I imagine a world without bricks-and-mortar bookstores would create an enormous push for online retailers like Amazon, as well as further encourage sales of e-books and e-readers. The print market would likely take a hit, as the physical shelf space would decrease dramatically, and readers would be faced with the choice of waiting a week for their print book to arrive, or waiting thirty seconds for their e-book to download. 

The literary world would change, certainly, but I believe wholeheartedly that it would evolve and survive. 

What we would lose, however, is the experience of a bricks-and-mortar store. Gone would be the days of browsing shelves of freshly-printed possibilities with a cup of coffee in hand. We would no longer be able to walk into a physical store dedicated solely to showcasing and selling stories. 

As someone who still feels a nostalgic sort of sadness every time I pass a closed ex-Borders store, I would without a doubt be heartbroken over the closing of Barnes & Noble, if it did come to that. But while we would mourn the loss of the books-and-mortar experience, I do believe that books would survive and the literary world would move on. 

It’d just be without a physical store. 

What do you think a world without bookstores would be like? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
What do you think the fall of Barnes & Noble would mean for the book world? (Click to tweet) 
What would a world without bookstores look like? One writer speculates. (Click to tweet)


Shay Dee said...

Do Borders still sell online?

I have to confess I'll probably be adding to this problem. I headed into my local bookstore and saw a book I've wanted to read for ages "Interview with a Vampire". I thought 'yeah I'll get this...' then looked at the price and saw £8.99. Of course I went to my Amazon uk app and found it for half price. The result? I put the book back on the shelf.

That's not to saw I was buying a kindle version, I was still buying the paperback, I was just getting it cheaper elsewhere. This is what happened with stores like Gamestation. Online took over, not necessarily digital games....(We know what happened with that approach.Huh? Who said xbox-one?)... But online offered a cheaper alternative.

So I can only hope the same will happen for paperbacks; they won't disappear, only how you buy them will change. I personally like real books because I can lend them out and there's something about being able to flick to the page I want quicker than I can on my kindle.

This also breeds further questions in regards to traditional publishing. As a writer who should you submit to? The up and coming small publishers catered to e-books, or....?

(sorry for writing my own article in your comments section!)

Ava Jae said...

So I'm not sure exactly how it works, but I think B&N bought Borders' online retailing? I just looked up "Borders" on Google and was led to a B&N page that said, "Welcome, Borders customer." So I'm guessing B&N owns what was formerly Borders' online retailing.

I struggle with the same thing you do, as far as buying books at B&N. I can't justify paying twice the amount for a book that I could buy for half-price elsewhere, and because of that I tend to buy a lot of print books off Amazon. However, I own a NOOK, and so I buy all of my e-books from B&N, so I like to think it evens out? At least a little? I also make a point of checking B&N first--sometimes there are sales that make the book price comparable, and when that's the case, I buy from the bookstore.

I still love physical books because I love collecting them. And while I can technically collect an e-book library, it's not the same as a physical bookshelf full of wonderful books. Plus I love the texture of the pages and the book smell... :)

As for publishing...I'm honestly not sure. If B&N went out, I imagine it would impact traditional publishers quite a bit, because there goes a huge amount of shelf space. Small publishers I suppose could be a good compromise--particularly small publishers who deal with both physical and e-books. But I suppose a lot would depend on how large traditional publishers adjusted to the change in the market. I imagine they would have to make some changes in order to remain advantageous to authors.

(Also, no need to apologize. I always appreciate thoughtful responses. ^_^)

Ava Jae said...

If you're shallow because of the lesser cover effect with e-books, than so am I. Part of the reason I sometimes choose to buy an e-book versus a print book is because the cover doesn't particularly catch me--so I don't care quite so much about collecting it on my bookshelf. That doesn't mean that the story is any lesser (in fact, some of my favorite novels I bought the e-book version for that reason), but the cover didn't grab me enough that I thought I must have that on my bookshelf. So there's that.

As for quality control, I think the main reason we get so many e-books that aren't quite up to part is because many people publish too soon. It isn't so much that there are more "bad" writers who self-pub or that there are more "bad" self-pubbed books--it's more that they weren't ready yet and published prematurely. You don't see that happen very often in traditional publishing because of the gatekeepers you mentioned, but as there aren't any gatekeepers in the e-book realm, it's not an uncommon occurrence.

That being said, there are some truly wonderful self-published books out there that were published thoughtfully, after serious edits and they often do quite well. And it's no surprise that those are the ones that traditional publishers often take an interest in.

Jeremy Feijten said...

Reading this makes me sad. I can't stand the thought of a world without bookstores. As I've said earlier, I don't want e-books. Sure, I get that they can be useful when going on holiday, but for me there's nothing like a print book.

And while I like buying books on The Book Depository (opening post packages ... Yay!), I love to visit bookstores regularly as well.

I think that the future of bookshops might be something along the lines of Octavia's Bookshop in Cirencester, England or Parnassus Books in Nashville, US (Both started in full financial crisis). The last one was opened by author Ann Patchett and a friend of hers from the publishing industry, as a reaction to the closing bookshops.
You should check out their websites and make a blog post about that ;-)

Anyway, since I'm planning to open a bookshop myself one day, I have to believe in their future ...

Robert Miranda said...

This is really depressing. I've tried to go to B&N as much as I can these past few years since Borders went under, but this shows how much people just prefer Amazon or eBooks. It really is sad...
I actually go to a couple of independent bookowners, so the bookstore is not completely dead, but I think we should start preparing for the inevitable, no matter how sad it'll be. Also giant corporations like Amazon and Walmart make books cost really cheap and it doesn't help B&N and the bookowners I mentioned above :(

Ava Jae said...

The article made me sad, too (as did writing this...). I absolutely adore Barnes & Noble and I would be devastated to see the last major chain bookstore go under. As for the bookshops you mentioned, I haven't heard of either of those bookstores, but I'll definitely have to check it out. Thanks, Jeremy!

Jennifer Knight said...

I'm going to shuffle out of my lurker position for a bit here. Yay first time poster!

I definitely think literature would survive, but bookstores have a very personal meaning for me. When Borders went down I lost my hangout spot where my friends and I would sip on our drinks, write in journals (bought from the store of course) back and forth to each other while having a pile of books next to us ready for check out when we'd leave. So when Borders went out of business we shifted to Barnes and Nobles, and although their cafe is smaller, we still enjoy just sitting, relaxing, buying drinks, journals, and books. Bookstores are what propelled me to write and collaborate with friends, and even if it's just a hobby, it's something that brings us so much joy and entertainment.

Maybe it's a bit of a selfish belief, but it'd be really heartbreaking for Barnes and Noble to go down too. It's the one shopping establishment I have cravings to be at that holds a lot of fantastic memories. If it weren't for bookstores, I don't know if I'd have as much fondness for writing that I do now. Spending hours at bookstores finding books to buy has just been something I've grown up with and grown attached to. I can understand if the physical stores do go out of business, and that wouldn't stop me from writing or buying books, but it'd be like watching a piece of my childhood fade away. It'd just be pretty sad, like having an old friend move.

rena said...

If this happened I wonder if the first chapter would be available to read. I won't buy a book unless I can read a couple of pages first.

SakuraPandaTeaTime said...

I don't mind about losing the big chain stores. They are pretty soulless. My favourite book stores are the small, private businesses and there will always be some of them around. People just like books. There may not be so many but they will still exist. Plus, if more physical bookstores accepted the e-book market and integrated them more with the physical book stores then I think there is even more room for the physical bookstores to remain.

SakuraPandaTeaTime said...

Amazon has their look inside service

Shay Dee said...

*cough* fifty shades *cough*

Sarah Anne Foster said...

I worked in a Borders store for over 4 years and stayed with them until the day they shut the doors. I miss it a lot. I think I'd hate to be a published writer in a world without bookstores. Since I'm a big advocate for print books, I'd just love the ideas of someone browsing the shelves and finding my book there.

Ava Jae said...

I'm not sure if it's preference as much as it is practicality that's really damaging B&N. People often find it difficult to justify paying more for something when they know they can get it cheaper elsewhere--and it's that kind of thinking that often has me hesitant to buy from bookstores (although whenever I find it's less expensive in a bookstore, I try to take advantage). I don't think I've ever bought a book from WalMart, though...at least not in recent memory. Is it that much cheaper than B&N? If so, I imagine that certainly isn't helping.

Regardless, I agree that it is somewhat depressing. :(

Ava Jae said...

Yes, I believe Amazon and B&N online both have a look inside feature that allows you to read a sample. So I imagine that would continue.

Ava Jae said...

Hello Jennifer! Welcome to the discussion. :)

I could not agree with this more! While I haven't written much in a B&N (although, to be honest, I'm not sure why now that you mention it--it sounds like a wonderful way to pass the time), I always look forward to spending time there and being able to relax between the shelves. I'm not going to reiterate everything you said about the fading away of bookstores because you said it beautifully, but you described perfectly how it would feel. If you're selfish, than so am I, because my heartbreak over the loss of B&N would be for very similar reasons.

Ava Jae said...

I'm going to have to disagree about the chain stores, but that may be partially due to the fact that I haven't really found an independent store that I really connected with. I do, however, think that the integration of the e-book market into physical stores would really be helpful. I'm not sure exactly how it would work, but I hope it's something that bookstores are looking into, but I think you're right that it could help them remain in business.

Ava Jae said...

I completely understand what you mean about wanting someone to find your book on the shelf--one of my greatest dreams is walking into a bookstore and seeing my book there, so the thought of the shelf disappearing altogether is saddening, to say the least.

Jennifer M. said...

All the major bookstores in my area closed down over a year ago, so this isn't really news to me. It is sad b/c I love bookstores, but it hadn't stopped me from reading - it's just done on my iPhone instead of from a physical paper book.

Ava Jae said...

Yeah, I don't think it'd stop me from reading, either (at the very least I imagine Amazon would continue selling print, and there are always e-books), it'd just be sad.

Suzanne_Writer said...

I've never read as much as I have since I got my Kindle.
While I do enjoy browsing the shelves of a bookstore, I will 9 out of 10 times, simply note the title and author of a book that looks good and either buy it online for a fraction of the price (thank you Book Depository) or get the ebook version since I much prefer reading on my Kindle than paper copies.
Maybe that's just me, but I can spend hours browsing Amazon's or The Book Depository's digital shelves with a cup of coffee in hand just as I used to browse in brick&mortar stores, and when I see something I like, it's usually cheaper and a single click away from being mine.

Ava Jae said...

While I do browse online (both through Amazon and my Nook), and I'll be the first to admit that I often buy books online, there's something about the atmosphere of the bookstore that I just love. Maybe it's the paper smell and just being surrounded by shelves upon shelves of books, but to me, it's not quite the same. :)

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