Friday, February 18, 2011
BORDERS FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY
Now we're living in the midst of an electronic revolution, watching the shift from physical books to digital ones. Kindle, Nook and their brethren are multiplying like mushrooms, and their share of the market is growing by leaps and bounds. Publishers are struggling to revise contracts to include language that reflects what they know right now and what they think might happen over the life of the contract. Writers are taking back electronic rights and posting their own books, both out-of-print and never-published, as digital books, and reaping the benefits directly.
We've seen closings of long-treasured and well-respected independent bookstores over the last couple of years, because the owners just couldn't afford to stay open. And now we're seeing the implosion of the giants. Is there any business model for selling books that works? I know I wouldn't want to be a bookseller now, no matter how much I love books.
At the same time, libraries are struggling to hold a small slice of municipal budgets, cutting staff, hours, and acquisitions. How can we stand to lose both bookstores and libraries?
Any reader among you knows that reading is an addiction. We can't survive without words in front of us. I've been known to read decades-old magazines I found stuffed under chair cushions in rustic vacation cottages when all else failed. Cereal boxes. Operating manuals. We need our fix, and we need it regularly.
Are pixels on a screen the same? They're still the same words, put together by the same people, only in a form that is infinitely more portable and adjustable. And you'll never run out of books, as long as you're near a computer or a wireless connection. All that is good. But what we lose is the serendipity of browsing: the pleasure of wandering through well-stocked aisles, picking up whatever appeals to us for any number of reasons, leafing through the pages, and deciding to give it a try. Will that change how we all read?
Will Borders survive? It’s not clear at the moment. But its woes have sent a seismic ripple through the publishing and reading world. Where will you turn for your books now?