Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the U.S., is closing a third of its stores over the next decade, they say.
In 2011, Borders Bookstores shut down all their stores.
Up here in Canada we haven't heard any mutterings—or not many, anyway—about closing our Chapters Bookstores, but can it be far off?
I find this whole scenario interesting. People are furious, sad, or even celebrating, but no one is without an opinion. I was sad at first. Nostalgic, really. Then I started to think about it a little deeper.
Yes, I think that when these huge box stores shut down, there will be fewer books sold. And as an author, that's obviously not good. I think the books bought in these stores are mostly impulse buys, not planned ones. That is neither here nor there, but here's the thing. When I go to Chapters—and I love to spend a couple of hours there, just wandering, perusing, latte in hand—I never leave with just one book. I grab the one I came for (if I came with one in mind), then … well, it's like popcorn. I can't stop. Everything's so pretty and exciting and colourful and inviting! How can I just walk away and leave all those books? What if I miss the ultimate adventure of a lifetime?
But let's look at another story.
… there was a little bookstore near my home. Actually, it wasn't all that near. It required that the whole family get into the car and drive, then look for a parking spot (because there weren't any big parking lots around there), feed the meter, etc. But all that effort was worthwhile, because we were out doing more than just buying a book or two. It was an event, almost.
Beside that store was a little hardware store and a Chinese grocery store (where they had a "pet" snapping turtle in their basement who was over 75 years old! They let me visit it when I was small), and an adorable little store that sold loads of special cheese and a bunch of little figurines that I collected. A couple of doors down from them was a children's clothing store. There was even a butcher on that little street. I loved when we went out to visit those places. We always knew the owners—sometimes even their families. They were always happy to see us, whether or not we bought anything. We usually did, though. We understood it was their business, their livelihood, and we were more than happy to be a part of their success—and in return we got both good products and personalized service.
Then one day a major sports store took over half a block. We'd never seen anything like it, so we popped in … and left with our arms full of bags, even though we really hadn't needed anything to do with sports. They were such good deals! There was so much choice! It was just so darn exciting to be in there, with the young, energized staff, the flashy promotional messages, the funky music blaring through the speakers. Just made you want to dance while you handed over your Visa card. Over time, they started selling ladies' clothing as well, so we stopped visiting the other store. They'd be fine without us. Or so we thought.
It wasn't long before a huge grocery store moved into the neighbourhood. Again—what choice! Everything laid out like presents at Christmas … and ooh! look at those things we've never eaten before! We need to buy some of those! One of the saddest memories I have as a child was finding out that our cheese/figurine shop had gone out of business about a year after that.
I hardly noticed the changeover when Chapters opened, and it was only in passing that I realized our little bookstore was gone. I was first in line, Visa in hand. And I haven't stopped shopping there since—except for when I actually take the time to go out and visit the rare independent bookstore or when I shhh! shop online. Even then, I always try to buy my books online from Chapters, not Amazon. Just on principal. But really, isn't Amazon just a bigger box store eating all the smaller box stores? And we used to celebrate these massive stores when they arrived.
Now times are a-changing. The E-book revolution has changed the world, yes, but more than that, it was the internet.
Before now, we had no idea of the millions of books out there. Actually, I doubt there really were millions of books out there until the internet, when it suddenly became possible for anyone at all to write and sell books. But back then, one of the more relaxing, enjoyable things for me was stopping in at the little bookstore, browsing, then buying just the right book. Not being handed promotional postcards, being shuffled towards the gift section, or having tables of $5 books slid in my path. Just finding something that would take me away.
So what will happen now? It's not as if books are going to go away. You'll always be able to find the #1 Bestselling Amazon Book! or the Free Book of the Day! online. You'll still be welcome at any library, and your friends will always lend you books. But oh, those hours of lost time, wandering the bookstore aisles, picking up books on impulse because of the pretty covers and managing to grab a candle or bowl for a friend's birthday at the same time … How will we survive?
I moved to a small town five years ago, so the internet has become a very easy way for me to pick up books. We have no small store here. I have to go half an hour before I can find a Chapters store. So yes, I'm starting to increase my online shopping. And I do love when a book arrives in the mail.
But what if--and, like I said, there's no talk of this at all, so don't go around saying "Genevieve said so! I'm just hypothesizing—Chapters closed down. What would I do? Yes, I could drive to the closest independent bookstore, once I found out where that was. Yes, I could continue to shop online.
But what if … the shutting down of box stores meant the rebirth of independent stores? What if my little town all of a sudden offered a tiny bookstore? What if Future Shop closed and little electronics stores opened instead, and we got to know the actual owner, not just a hired hand? What if big grocery chains had to downsize? Well, we all have to eat. Maybe if the giants aren't there to take all the money, those quaint little grocery stores with the handwritten price labels could come back. Maybe we could even attend farmers' markets and end up eating better, supporting local.
The #1 thing box stores and the internet give us, in my opinion, is convenience. We're spoiled. It'd take some time, some adjustments, but personally, I don't think I'd be all that sad if those massive stores were gone.
The world is shrinking, and we're all fitting quietly and easily into those narrowing borders. Despite all the talk we do about reading labels and avoiding GMOs, I believe I served a Mexican tomato in our salad last night because it's just too darn cold to grow them here in January, and we wanted a tomato! *stomp stomp stomp* But really, couldn't I have waited? Couldn't I have eaten something else? Couldn't I have stopped being spoiled and accepted what I was given without complaints?
As an author, I will sell fewer books if the big stores are gone. I know that. I'm sure a lot of people pick up a copy of one of my books completely on impulse, because of the pretty cover or the intriguing blurb on the cover. Not because the shop has propped it up as a "featured book" at the front counter. Because, in case you didn't know this, all the books you see featured at any of the big bookstores are being featured not because the bookstores choose to do it, but because the publishers have put big bucks into those displays. Can you really see everyone racing out to buy books like 50 Shades or Hunger Games if they hadn't been stacked to the ceiling everywhere you turned? Without some great marketing miracle, you'll never see a new or local author featured that way (except at a signing). We can't afford to pay for that.
Big Box bookstores closed a ton of small bookstores. The internet is closing a bunch of those Big Box bookstores. I don't think it means fewer people are reading—in fact, I think because of ebooks and the ease of internet shopping, the opposite is happening.
I'd miss the hours of wandering through bookstore aisles, reading samples. But I love the idea that these closings might be opportunities for new doors to open. Independent stores. They won't be nearly as hard to find if this happens, I'm betting. And I'm all for that.