The Plight of the Bookstore

I write and I teach writing and I work at a book store.  Words are a part of me, even though I don’t use them as well as I like.  It isn’t the words I enjoy as much as the information. I like what books give us.  Wealth.  Knowledge.  I am rich with books.  I know things because of the books I read.  I buy books with absolutely no time to read them, with the patiences of a snail.  Books and the information inside them are at the core of my existence.  Like a basketball player palming a basketball.  That is what books are to me.

Keep all that in mind when you read this. The case I am making is a bit complicated.  But, I think, it is the only way to save the industry of books and the industry of book selling.  It has already happened.  I’m just putting it into words.

First, people are reading more.  This is truth.  People read all the time.  On the internet or magazines or books or whatever. People are constantly reading.  So much so that book stores are  becoming more popular.  People are seeking bookstores out.  However, being popular doesn’t mean successful.  People are going to bookstores more but they are buying books less.  There is a reason for this.  The people who love books are buying books online or digitally.  This is also true.  Amazon and other sites are selling books to people cheaper.  Is there something wrong with this?  No.  If a book is $25 bucks in a store, it should be $15 books online.  The warehouse that ships the book out doesn’t have to pay a person to do a number of things with it.  The warehouse employee is simply finding the book and mailing it out.  An employee at a bookstore has to find the book, give the book to the customer.  The employee at the bookstore also has to take care of these books. Ultimately, people that work at bookstores sell books less and baby-sit the books more.  Thus, the ten extra dollars.

It is the people that are going to bookstores and sitting in bookstores and reading books for hours on their day off and not buying the book that are the problem.  These are the people that are destroying the bookstore industry. Not the book industry, mind you.  The book industry is fine.  Remember, the people who love books are buying the books.  They just aren’t buying them at bookstores.  E-readers, shipments, these are all balanced out to give a profit to the author, the publisher, and the seller.  They are making plenty of money.  The bookstores are suffering.

There are a number of reasons why bookstores are dying.  The main reason is that the people who go into the bookstores, read the books, but don’t buy them, don’t value the information in the book.  Information.  That is what a book is.  When you buy a book on your Kindle, it is still a book because all books are are lots and lots of words.  It doesn’t matter if the words are on paper or not.  The people who sit and read a book all day but don’t buy it do not think that the information in a book is something you should have to buy. For example:  if a freshman in college needs to work on a research project, he can go to a bookstore, find the book he needs, sit in the coffeeshop part of the bookstore and flip through the book, using the information he needs.  He leaves, a bookstore employee puts the book back and the book doesn’t get sold.  The freshman does the exact same thing he always did in the public library.  There was never a fee for it at libraries, and he doesn’t understand that the information in the book is valuable.  If he was made to pay for books in his youth, he would understand that the information isn’t free.  He never learned that.

People in their senior year of college or in a Master’s program understand the difficulty of creating information.  These people are more likely to buy the book and use it.  These higher educated people also understand they can buy the book on Amazon or Half.com.  Thus, these higher educated people never go to a bookstore.  Yes, some people just enjoy buying books at bookstores and supporting the local bookstore.  These people should be commended.  These people are also few and far between.  If there were more of these great people, bookstores would be doing a lot better.

It is also the bookstores fault, some of them.  Bookstores have tried to get people into their stores by creating places where people can “hang out” and read books.  The idea is like the test-drive.  If you test drive a car, and like it, you will buy it.  The problem is that cars and books are not the same.  Cars move you from point A to point B.  Books educate you.  If you read a book, even for ten seconds, you know more than you did ten seconds ago.  People can’t test drive a book.  If you are reading a book you didn’t pay for, and that book is for sell, you are stealing.  You can own, and not own, a car.  You can not “not” own information.  And, yes, I understand that people buy books they have already read.  These people are, again, the exception.  If everyone bought books like that, again, bookstores would not be in trouble.

(I feel I need to add something here about the value of information.  You can say that the internet is full of free information, i.e. Wikipedia and the like.  Yes.  And just like a free pair of pants or a free meal, free information is worth the price paid for it.  You can not tell me, with a straight face, that Naomi Klein’s book Shock Doctrine, which costs $25 is equal to the Wiki-page about it.  That’s absurd, and absolutely backs up my point completely).

There is a way past the plight of the bookstore. There is a way that businesses that sell books can make a profit.  It is simple, and not at all risky.

Bookstores need to close.

Any bookstore that is barely or hardly making a profit needs to close and move completely to the online space.  Either they sell books digitally or they ship books to buyers.  The commercial spaces would close completely down.

You’re probably asking how I could want this, a person who loves books like me.  I’ll answer your question.

When I lived in Wilmington, I never went into a bookstore there.  I bought my books off Half.com. I went to the library only to study.  I think I checked out a total of ten books in college.  I bought all my books online and had them mailed to me.  When I moved to the DC Metro area, the first time I went into a bookstore was when I met my friend Dana for coffee at Kramer’s books and we stayed ten minutes.  The second was when I picked up an application to work at the bookstore I work at now.  So I am a fan of books.  I am not a fan of bookstores.  The idea of sitting inside a building full of strangers and reading among them is about as attractive to me as getting stabbed in the neck.  I just don’t like people that much.

If bookstores close, libraries will be cool again.  They will be places where people can gather and gain the information they need.  It won’t be free, because the library is paying for it.  The government pays to allow it’s citizens to go to libraries and gain knowledge.  Yay, government.  Colleges do this as well.  So do public schools.  That is what they are for.  Bookstores are for selling books.  Bookstores are for selling, not giving away, knowledge.  Somehow, and probably by accident, bookstores tried to simulate the library experience.  The result is that a bunch of people hang out in bookstores and do exactly what they do in libraries.  They don’t buy anything.

The people who write books would earn more money.  Publishers would earn the same, or more money.  The books would cost less, because all those add expenses wouldn’t be tact on.  What about the people who don’t have credit cards or don’t like things shipped to them?  Then, yes, they would suffer, those two people in the world.  And if a bookstore is making a profit, then there would be no reason to close the store, would it?  My solution would eliminate the jobs of people working at bookstores.  This is true. Capitalism is horrible and I hate it.  This is also true.

This might seem strange, the idea of wanting bookstores to close.  It is only strange because there is a picture of a bookstore in your mind.  These imaginary bookstores have people buying tons of books, sitting around talking about these books, full of people generally in love with the information in these books.  These stores are rare.  If you know of one, you are lucky.  But in order for the book industry to thrive, the out-dated concept of bookstores need to die.

I’m sure someone disagrees.  Leave a comment and let’s duke it out.

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3 thoughts on “The Plight of the Bookstore

  1. Jarvis,

    In my opinion this is the best piece of information that you have ever put out there. It resonated with me and I was happy to read it. If you wouldn’t mind I am going to further extrapolate on this on my own blog – perhaps less eloquently but reading this just made me feel like I had something to say on the matter.

    I’m going to use this post as a reference point.

    It’s been too long since we’ve spoke and I would love nothing more than to get on that new ‘cast of yours.

    Nate.

    • Thanks, Nate. Yeah, it has been a while. I’m taking a break from the podcast for a few weeks, but I’m pretty sure I’ll start again next week. I’ll hit you up when I know more. And thanks for swinging by.

  2. Pingback: Bookstores and Bookworms | Nate Kowal's Blog

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