Where have all the bookstores gone, and why are they leaving me? Or did I desert them?
July 15, 2013
Since time for me began in this world, these have been, remain, and will forever be my two favorite places.
I grew up in a library. At least I spent every moment I could walking through stacks of books with yellowed paper, dog-eared pages, and cracked bindings, faded covers and stories that were guaranteed to amuse, amaze, and transport me to places I had never been and would probably never go.
I am convinced that if anyone had created a perfume that had the aroma of aging dusty and musty books, I would have been in love and may have been engaged by the age of eight.
When not lost or hidden away in the Kilgore Library, I was prowling the crowded little aisles of Martin’s Bookstore.
I knew which of the books made me laugh.
Or made me cry.
Or scared me.
And I learned the art form of cursing on page forty-seven of a novel whose name has long been forgotten. I use some of the words in my own books. I never told my mama. And she never mentioned it. But I know she prayed a lot more for me than she once did.
The crowded little bookstore possessed the same aroma as the library. The books were only newer. That’s all.
I thought smell would never change.
Then, lo and behold, bookstores began to smell like coffee.
I didn’t argue. Or complain. I simply went along with change. But now, when I catch the aroma of coffee, I want a book to read, or when I’m reading a book, I want a cup of coffee in my hand.
Yet on so many corners these days, in towns both large and small, I see empty buildings where bookstores once stood: Big chains. Mega-Stores. Independents. Small chains tuck in the end of malls.
But where have they gone? They are all disappearing.
There are, I’m told, still an estimated10,800 bookstores open for business in the United States. That’s a lot.
But more than 2,000 of them have closed during the past decade. The Borders chain has locked its doors for good. Such one-time giants as Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Crown Books are gone and mostly forgotten. Barnes and Nobles is the last major chain standing, and it is, from all reports, on shaky ground because of losses in revenue and plummeting stock prices.
Total sales within bookstores are decreasing every year.
The easy answer can be found in the enormous growth of eBooks, which has become a $3.2 billion market. Both traditional and indie publishing are moving steadily toward eBooks and the digital revolution. By 2016, it is conservatively predicted that eBooks will be a $10 billion market. Between 2010 and 2011, eBook sales rose dramatically by 210 percent and comprised 30 percent of all sales of adult fiction.
Surprised? Not really. It was inevitable. Almost 30 percent of all Americans now own an eReading device.
It’s all about the money. It’s all about the bottom line. Publishers don’t want to spend millions to print books they may or may not sell. Consumers don’t want to spend $24.95 for books they can buy online for $2.99 to $9.99 – sometimes less and sometimes more. They like the convenience of shopping online. They no longer have to get dressed, crawl into their cars on hot days or cold days, and fight the traffic just to get to the bookstore.
They don’t even miss the smell of coffee. They can brew coffee at home.
Bookstores are suffering. There’s no doubt about it. Bbut don’t blame it all on eBooks. Traditional publishers are no longer producing as many hardback and paperback books as they once did, especially not fiction. They are developing very few new writers simply because they, like indies, aren’t quite sure what to do next. As a result, traditional publishers are desperately clinging to the realization that the most important asset a book can have is a well-known author’s name on the cover. So they are churning out assembly line novels bearing the names of James Patterson, Robert Parker, and Robert Ludlum, to name a few, even though some of the authors are dead. Don’t worry. The name lives.
Traditional publishers do have access to bookstores.
Indie authors don’t, and here are the problems they face.
One, they don’t have a distribution channel to get their work into bookstores.
Secondly, they don’t have the financial strength to publish several thousand paper books and also pay the shipping costs to reach the bookstores.
And thirdly, indies can’t afford to promote or market the books even if they somehow wound up with titles on bookshelves of a chain or independent bookstore.
So paper books languish in Barnes & Noble. And eBooks languish on Amazon.
Libraries, more and more, resemble empty tombs. I no longer tunnel through miles and miles of books, notes, letters, and resource materials to research my novels. I do it online. And I feel an emotional loss at the slow, lingering demise of bookstores.
I write eBooks.
I read eBooks.
I am one of the culprits who are causing more and more bookstores to go away, and yet I deeply mourn their passing.