Not many years ago, my husband and I were lamenting how the big chain bookstores were putting the small, independent bookstores out of business. How could the small business owners possibly compete with those corporate giants? The Twig, a cute little bookstore nestled into a corner on Broadway in Alamo Heights, a small town within the city limits of San Antonio, could order any book we wanted, if it wasn’t already on the shelf, and we chose to support them for awhile instead of going to Borders or Barnes and Noble. I don’t know if the Twig is still there since we no longer live in Texas, but I have to tell you, we slowly gravitated to the larger chains because they had more on the shelves we could access immediately without waiting, they had more variety, they had bargain books galore, better sales, a coffee shop, and longer hours, including being open on Sundays. The chains thrived with our and others patronage.
So it was with some sadness that my husband and I read that Borders is closing its doors forever. Our Borders store is within walking distance, and I have enjoyed walking up there and perusing the shelves. However, I have to say that I seldom bought anything in the past year. Yes, I enjoy reading as much as ever, but I bought a Nook recently, an e-reader, and I’m loving it. I have no more room on my bookshelves for more books. Besides, for the most part, once I’ve read a book, I have no desire to read it again. Okay, I have to admit I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy three times already, though each reading has been about twenty years apart. With my Nook, I don’t accumulate books that take up room I don’t have. Plus, I can get my book immediately. I also can get the classics for free, or nearly free, because they are in public domain. I can’t do that at the bookstore.
Technology has made books even more readily accessible, and it is slowly changing the publishing business. Right now I’m reading a novel by a current author who offered her e-book for free. It hasn’t even been offered in print. Will publishing houses be more willing to try out new authors in the e-book format without risking all the high costs of expensive runs of books which might not sell? If the e-book is a hit, they might take on that author for a print run, knowing he or she had a following. I don’t know how all this will play out, but I do know that things are changing, and companies that can’t or won’t keep up, are destined for a fall. In fact, it’s not enough to just keep up. They have to be able to project the changes and prepare for them, something Borders was not quick enough to do. Yes, they finally came up with an e-reader of their own, but it was too little, too late. Amazon, with its Kindle, and Barnes and Noble, with its Nook, were way ahead of them.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love books, real books. I can’t imagine enjoying poetry nearly as much on an e-reader. Poetry is something I want to read over, and over, and over again, savoring every word. I need to see it formatted on the page, and formatting is sometimes an issue with e-readers. Some books are too unwieldy for me to want to have on an e-reader. For example, I’m reading Mark Twain’s autobiography, a massive volume, that came out last fall. In order to make use of all the notes and enjoy close examination of the pictures, I like having the printed version. But if I want a quick read, a Patterson or a Piccoult, the e-version is just fine.
I feel sorry that so many people are going to lose their jobs as a result of Borders closing. I will miss walking to that big bookstore, maybe to grab a magazine and sit outside with my iced latte from its coffee shop. It will be interesting to see what the publishing business looks like ten years down the road. I’m sorry, Borders, if I contributed to your demise. I assure you, it was inadvertent.