Why bookstores are NOT going to ‘die’ out

There’s been a lot of ridiculous hype that bookstores are going to be dead in the near future. These people mainly contribute it to the rising use of eBooks and how Kindles are making bookstores obsolete and whatnot.

I personally would like to call it BS. I’m not going to go into super factual analysis or attempt to dig up a lot of links to prove any assertions or whatever; I’m just going to suggest you go to your favorite search engine instead or add some of your own logic here.

Borders bookstore Detroit airport by brewbooks

People point out that Borders Group Inc., an international book and media retailer got bankrupt this year, suggesting the premise of bookstores in the future. Thing is, Borders was totally slow in being competitive. For a long while, Borders didn’t sell any books online; they outsourced it to Amazon until about a year or two ago, and Barnes & Noble got a earlier head start as well. Barnes & Noble also brought in their Nook as soon as they could, while it took about 2 years later for Borders to get a Kobo in their stores. Check it out from Forbes. The gist is, is that Borders didn’t have good management and direction as to what consumers want, and they didn’t adapt quickly enough.

So digital sales may have some part to do with some bookstores closing out. But there has to be more than just digital sales. Do a lot of people you know or see own Kindles or Nooks or other eReaders? Maybe it’s just me, but I may see a couple sometimes, but they’re not as prevalent as the online world would like you to believe.

Here’s my theory. Something many media outlets haven’t touched on when they talked about Borders going down is:

  • the rise in secondhand bookstores
  • the rise in library check-outs
  • people buying online at cheaper prices

I know it’s all anecdotal, but I don’t buy books as much as I used to when I was younger. It may have to do with how books have risen like a dollar per paperback (from $3.99 to $4.99) in the past couple of years, and how being an adult means I’ve got to use my money more sparingly. Books are a luxury in a way. It’s not totally necessary for survival, but they can be educational or entertaining. I mostly bought books for entertainment through mystery fiction.

When I can, I mostly go to the library to get books. Sure, there are downsides to not owning them: having to return it back on time (or renew), dealing with any potential nastiness from being used for a long time, and so on. But I usually read my fiction books only once, and rarely ever again. So it makes sense for me to avoid books that are a one-time only thing. If I like it a lot, I may buy a personal copy somewhere.

That’s when I might usually hit a secondhand bookstore, but they are usually farther for me from where I live, so I might head to a national chain bookstore (usually Barnes & Noble) instead. Independents don’t really show up on the radar where I live, and the perks and selection of Barnes & Noble is hard to resist, so sorry independent owners. Borders had few locations in this city, so it wasn’t usually a place I visited, though I like the store’s atmosphere as well.

Also, a lot of people sell books on Amazon.com for cheap. So that helps a ton. I usually bought out-of-print books, that bookstores don’t usually keep since they’re a bit outdated.

I personally don’t care about the eBook craze at the moment. I can’t justify spending over a $100 for an eReader when printed books work fine for me, and I don’t have to deal with DRM issues if I wanted to read elsewhere, or ensure I have a physical back-up. The DRM issue is what hits me the most, and prevents me from even considering buying an eBook until that gets resolved. I kind of wish Microsoft might offer a solution at some point soon.

Plus I like to think any business model will at least try to change and adapt first, before it dies out. I see so many possibilities for bookstores before anything digital will overtake them. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I’m an idea guy and could think of a lot of ways bookstores can be even better than what’s out there.

Bookstores in some form will be here to stay for a long time. Whether it’s a big-chain selling a big selection with discounts and a built-in coffee shop, or a specialized independent, or a secondhand place, I don’t see them dying off in droves.