Border's booksIn the early 1980s, before the crackle and hum of a dial-up modem invaded our living room, my dad and I went to a local bookstore most Saturday evenings. We had two choices: Printers Inc., a free-minded store in Mountain View, Calif., which pioneered the coffee-while-you-read model, and Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, Calif., where there were acres of floor space.

By the mid 1990s, I was working at Kepler's as my part-time college job. Our collective staff brainpower served as the proto-Internet, finding obscure connections and recalling information about arcane topics. As a customer approached the information booth, we evaluated their stride, authority, how much gray was in their hair, and got ready to start auto-filling suggestions. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood? The Rules? Cold Mountain? One staffer manned the ISBN search terminal, another hovered by the special-order cart, and yet another stood ready to run down an aisle to search out whatever book might be desired.

In the quiet moments, chatting against a musical background of 10,000 Maniacs, we felt as an independent store, that we faced two threats: big box bookstores, like Borders, and Internet retailers, like Amazon.com. This week, threat No. 1 disappeared as Borders announced it would liquidate. Equally interesting, threat No. 2 is no longer a threat to independent bookstores, but an ally, providing a platform for thousands of individual booksellers to peddle their wares.
Where do you buy books?
Online187 (21.2%)
Chain bookstore358 (40.5%)
Independent bookstore83 (9.4%)
Used bookstore 75 (8.5%)
I only buy ebooks58 (6.6%)
I check them out from the library123 (13.9%)

Still, the news this week that Border's Books is closing all its 399 locations has left a lump in my throat. Barnes & Noble (BKS) will remain as the sole big-box brick-and-mortar book vendor, while thousands of independent sellers will keep on keeping on, operating on thin margins and love of the game.

My distress is echoed by the American Booksellers Association, which represents 90% of independent booksellers in the United States. "We are not excited by this," Meg Smith, the marketing and membership director said. "It's bad for the supply chain and booksellers, and it's bad for people." She added that's it is too early to know how the Borders closing will impact small booksellers.

Like every other aspect of the media, the bookselling industry continues to adjust to changing consumer habits and the stark economics of online delivery. But even while the big chains like Borders are suffering, there has been growth on the independent front. Last year, there were 1,825 independent sellers with membership to ABA -- an increase of 5% to 7% from 2009. Smith attributes that rise to an increasing emphasis on local and community business along with a partnership between the ABA and Google Books.

But do we need bookstores? Not really, if all we're talking about is access to books or information. With the boom in tablet computers, Kindles and the like, the time elapsed between desiring a book and actually turning (metaphorically) its pages has shrunk to a matter of minutes. Even the social aspects of a bookstore -- a venue to share ideas, chat with friends, flirt with members of the opposite sex -- sound increasingly like another "place": Facebook.

So what is the value of a clean, well-lit place? It is people. "It's something that you can't scientifically determine," Smith said. "There is a core human need to be with people in a place that is stimulating and exciting." Back to the proto-Internet: booksellers. "They are remarkable people," Smith added. "People like the exchange with them, they have a passion and it rubs off. ... It's really a very simple formula: [A bookstore is a] welcoming place, with interesting stuff and welcoming people."

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restormy

Its a very sad day for this country, when people go to kendall and all the otheres to read a book. There is nothing that compares to holding a book in your hands, turning pages , and the feeling of curling up with a good book in hand. This country has truly gone to hell.

July 21 2011 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
claudejuly55

blame you geeks for this the internet has destroyed the retail businuess. the goverment should start putting taxes on all internet sales see how long people we continue to buy on line does one wonder why we became so anti socal
blame twitter facebook and all those stupid sites and u want to talk about privacy wait till they make you put a chip in your ass so everyone will know everything you do.its sickening my customer now demand that i check thier emails in the field wake up let get rid of all this computer crap and use it was ment for INFORMATION SORCE and all you kids that keep texting can you read

July 21 2011 at 12:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
aepd

I am so sad bookstores are closing------as I talk to my 25 year old son he says (like I am sure most of the under 30 crowd says)----"-no big deal mom--just get an E reader".---no big deal?---going to bookstores is NOT about just getting a book!!---I have spent countless hours snugged in a corner on a sunny or rainy day reading --spending time with other people who love books---all their nooks and crannies. To have a book just delievered to my living room chair ?? No people watching----no escape from home realities----ahh-----please don't say they'll be no bookstores anymore---it has helped me and countless others mentally to finger hours through some books--then to proudly go up and buy my prize---anxious to go home and jump into my story.---I will hope this is some transittion-----it will survive.----YOUNG PEOPLE OF THE WORLD--- do you really want just Facebook and bars to meet people your age??? When you get out of school that the only place they'll be if we don't support your local book store.--please support.

July 20 2011 at 1:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dsanc73875

When the smoke clears out , all those who are easily wowed by by all the newest gadgets will realize (maybe) that it was all done in the name of controlling us . Dick tracy is alive and well and so is the twilight zone.

July 19 2011 at 11:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dsanc73875's comment
claudejuly55

youre right before you know we wont need to leave our homes we will become zombies in your ownhomes
and we can stay home and never go out in public then we wont need stores clothes cars or keeping up with the joneses

July 21 2011 at 12:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mike

I suppose one could always look at the Mona Lisa on-line, or watch a video of a sunrise on Youtube, or read an e-book but the electronic experience will always pale to the experience of the five senses. I love the smell, the energy and ambiance of the bookstore and I love the feel of the tome in my hands... knowing that all it contains is mine for a 100 years & beyond.

July 19 2011 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ann

Absolutely we need bookstores! We need that connection with books, we need the pleasure of browsing and holding a book in our hands. America needs bookstores for what they bring to the community. Yes, I can certainly order online, but it's not same experience. I am planning on seeking out independent bookstores in my city and supporting them.

July 19 2011 at 8:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
JosephJ

The problem with these mega-bookstores is they have a huge daily nut. They put books on the shelf that sit there for six months or a year before they move, and they take a small army of staff to run. Brick and mortar stores have a place, but they need to be nimble, cost effective, and focused on a segment of the market. Borders in particular had issues becuase they didn't have on online presence or a publishing arm like Barnes and Noble does, and even with those assets Barnes and Noble has troubles of their own. The local book store will still be around. It just won't be 30,000 squre feet and won't be stocking books that turn over once a year. The economics are just too brutal to make that work in an online world.

July 19 2011 at 7:17 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to JosephJ's comment
Hey Tinkerbell

There's nothing like a book store!!!

July 19 2011 at 7:07 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Ron

I hope it's BYE BYE OBAMA!

July 19 2011 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
smileson

YES we need book stores, even though i can buy online i buy just about all my books at local stores.

July 19 2011 at 6:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply