The digital age rockets on, roaring through the recession as if only some puffy clouds stood in the way of prosperity and our all-electronic future.
With few other industries in such full throttle, it makes it easier to believe that the future will continue to unfold only in various iWays, wh
ich means death to the old ways.
Lost in all this fervor to yield all aspects of life to the digital world is the fact that we yet don’t actually live inside those computers and smart phones.
Also lost is the very old idea that while something new is exciting, and novel, it’s not necessarily better. Also lost is the venerable concept that more choice is better than less choice.
For example, with the introduction of the Kindle and Nook e-book readers, people say books and bookstores are a thing of the past. And indeed, sales of those devices have cut into traditional book sales. But they have not eliminated bookstores, and they never will. As is the outcome of real competition, however, only the best will survive.
During the heyday of the unsustainable economy everything in the United States was suddenly “mega” and “super,” including bookstores. Borders went from being a used book store in 1971 to a monster chain that put smaller stores out of business to one that misread the future and handed over its online sales to Amazon.com. Oops. Bad move. Borders is now on the brink of bankruptcy.
So the cultural coroners are out in force again, pronouncing the time of death for all bookstores.
But people like bookstores. They especially like, and are loyal to, independent bookstores. People who write books also especially like bookstores. That’s where they give readings (libraries too!) and meet people who read their books.
In a well-reported article, USA Today asks, “Is there hope for small bookstores in a digital age?” While apparently it wouldn’t make for a good headline, the answer is “yes.” The article leads with an independent seller in New York who is in the process of expanding her bookstore. The key to success: With a focus on customer service, the business is a community gathering spot. The sale of traditional books is being supplemented by a plan to help customers order e-books.
Community is key. In the Northwest, we are lucky to have plenty of our own examples: Village Books in Bellingham, Watermark Book Co. in Anacortes, Elliot Bay Books in Seattle, Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane and Powell’s Books in Portland.
Funny how a “dead” business also continues to sound like one of the best things that could happen for the future of downtown Everett.