Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Are new independent bookstores "tilting at windmills"?

There's quite a bit in the news these days about the future of books and bookstores1.

Borders appears to be on life support.

Sales of e-books have more than doubled in each of the past three years, according to this Associated Press article. The article has a pro-digital analyst predicting that 90 percent of bookstore shelf space could disappear from the United States in the next 10 years. We'd go from 1,200 large bookstores to "maybe 150 decent-sized stores."

Others have hope, though. This article in Crain's, regarding the independent bookstore scene in New York City, focuses on some recent success stories. Independents can be nimble, while a company such as Borders simply cannot be.

Those NYC stores are hedging their bets. A portion of their revenue is coming from products such as "hand-carved chess sets from India" and $6 greeting cards.

But there are those who think that while the independents might see a short-term boost from a possible collapse of Borders, it simply won't last in a future dominated by digital.

“The new indies are tilting at windmills,” Albert Greco, a Fordham University professor who studies the book industry, says in the Crain's article.

"The traditional bookstore is doomed by e-readers and online sales of hard copy books," adds Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker.

What do you think? Do you go to retail bookstores any more? Do you pay full price for new books any more? Are chess sets and artsy greeting cards truly going to save bookstores?

Of course, none of this mentions used bookstores. We have great places for used books here in the York area, including the York Emporium. And I suspect there will continue to be a strong niche market for places where you can find those slices of the past that simply can't be replicated on an e-book reader.

Feb. 10 addendum

1. I mentioned the 2003 demise of one bookstore in this previous post.

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