Monday, May 12, 2008

The Demise of the Local Book Store

Murder by 4 welcomes freelance writer Diana Raabe. Diana lives with her husband and two children in Minneapolis, Minnesota. An avid reader and book reviewer, she contributes regularly to ( to’s Books, Writing and Politics Essentials. When not reading or writing, she enjoys keeping an eye on local politics and traveling the world. Her new blog can be found at

I met MurderBy4 through Aaron Paul Lazar, author of the ever-growing list of LeGarde Mysteries. We met through the website, to which we are both regular contributors. While Aaron writes books, I write about books. I also do a lot of reading and am pleased to recommend the LeGarde Mystery, Tremolo: cry of the loon, but more on that another time (I promise).

The heavy weight on my mind these days is that of the brick-and-mortar bookstore – and not just the small ones where you (used to) go to visit the owner as much as to buy books. The sad demise of the bookstore began long before the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader arrived on the scene. Who among us can remember the days when bookstores sold just books? Barnes & Noble stores didn’t always serve Starbucks, and Borders’ partnership with Seattle Coffee is relatively new (depending on your age).

Barely two weeks ago, Dutton’s Brentwood – possibly the most popular bookstore in Los Angeles – closed its doors. The building which housed Dutton’s belongs to Charles Munger, who plans to develop the property into something upscale, but Doug Dutton doesn’t fault Munger with the demise of the bookstore. It’s really about the industry in general.

As Dutton’s was closing, Borders unveiled its new marketing strategy when it opened the first Borders “concept store” in National City, California. The concept is not a total switch to e-reading and audio downloads (books as well as music), but an expansion of choice. The new concept stores will house a “digital center” where customers can do everything from publishing their own books to researching genealogy. (Don’t worry, the cappuccino will still be brewing!) The chainstore is in the process of selling off its international business and plans to open 14 of the digitally inclusive bookstores.

Obviously, you’ve got some electronic savvy – you’re reading a blog, after all! But is a “digital” bookstore within your reading comfort zone? Is an author interview via satellite as engaging as a bookstore reading? If you’re like me, you continue to lament the loss of your favorite independent stores as they gradually fall by the wayside, one sad closing after another. But with the tenuous new concept stores coming to a mall near you, what will happen to your reading and book shopping habits?



Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Diana, thanks so much for being a guest on MB4. Your article rang true for me. I, too, am saddened by the loss of small bookstores. I guess that goes for the small hardware stores, too. I love those, and am afraid the superstores might push them out of business in the end. Thanks again and come back often.

Marta Stephens said...

Diana, this is a topic that I too have thought about often. As a reader, I love browsing through libraries and bookstores; large, small and everything in between. I love the feel of a book in my hand and the smell of the pages. I want to sit in a comfy chair, prop my feet up and turn the page. However, as an author, I appreciate the impact the Internet has on readership.

I live in the Midwest and am fortunate to work at a state university that schedules numerous wonderful author readings and other speakers throughout the year. However, when look around the room, most participants are my age or older. Those who are 25 or under are more than likely there due to a class requirement. That’s a fact, but I’m not so sure that it’s indicative of a lack of interest in books. Why? Because I feel the positive attitudes toward online bookstores and new digital centers have everything to do with the technology our children, the next generation of readers, have grown up with. That’s their world as much as the traditional bookstore is ours.

My children, both in college, are 22 and 19. They’ve had access to computers both at home and in school from kindergarten on, they’ve participated in online classrooms, field trips, and other learning opportunities, they text their friends, chat online, and shop without dropping.

I see the effect technology has had on traditional bookstores and I’m not particularly happy about it either, but it’s a trend we unwittingly created years ago. Technology will continue to advance and we’re left with the choice to either go with the flow or fall behind.

Will technology change the reading habits of people? Call me optimistic, but I think not. The great thing in all of this is the opportunity to reach far more people from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, etc., via the Internet and hopefully capture the attention of future readers. Who’s to say how many people will learn about a new author and his or her work via the Internet that wouldn’t have had an opportunity otherwise? Time will tell.

Thanks so much for your great post!

Diana Raabe said...

Oh yes - the libraries are great and, perhaps, will become even more popular (if we can keep them open, that is).

What Marta says is in line with the Borders philosophy behind their digital centers - expansion of choices. That's a good way to think about the digital revolution.

jean said...

I could really relate to this post, Diana, because it is sad to me to see any small business, most especially a book store, close its doors. I'm resistant to change and often think I should have been born in a different era. Though I'm thankful for each and every person who has bought one of my e-books, I personally like a book I can hold in my hands and curl up with. And though I'm as big a fan of coffee as anyone else, I go to a book store to read books!