In the wake of Borders’ demise: What does this mean for the printed word?

I have to admit, I’m saddened by Borders finally closing their doors. The local one I frequented went out of business about a month ago so it had already been more or less gone to me. But seeing it all set in stone still upsets me. Sure, it was a corporate conglomerate that pushed books based on vampire movies and teen dramas more than actual noteworthy/classic literature, but still, compared to its competition, it wasn’t all that bad. The fiction shelves were always well stocked with the authors I loved most, and everything was always well-placed and easy to find.  A good amount of my teenagers years were spent creeping down those aisles, looking for teen romance fiction, anything about troubled teenagers, or angst-ridden teens…you get the idea. So maybe it’s more so that I miss the nostalgia associated with Borders than the actual store itself. But either way, it’s gone. And it’s one less place to actually browse around for and purchase an actual book.

Barnes & Noble seems to be doing just fine…but then again, they didn’t give over most of their business to Amazon. Couple that with them spearheading the Nook franchise, and they’ve got their bases covered for now. But what does this indicate? That only the biggest and most powerful of booksellers can last, and only if they market only the crappiest, most accessible movie-to-book  “novels,” and only if they shove expensive, technology that probably won’t last as long as an actual book in your face?

But despite the nook’s murky future, it  still makes me wonder: what does this mean for all bookstores? With the advent of technology like e-readers, kindles, nooks and tablets, do we even have a need for physical books anymore? I think the assumption that bookstores and physical books are dead is a bit too extreme. Walk into New York City and you’re sure to find plenty of book stores (local ones, too!) still operating and drawing in good business.  Sure reading online is the new “in” thing – but it’s not for everyone. I’d chalk it up to a eugenicist notion that only the upper class who can afford the latest technology should be able to read – but in fact, class has nothing to do with it. It’s more of a “thinking it’s cost efficient, need to have in a “gimme gimme” society, need to be in the mainstream”  thought process that allows people of any class to purchase such devices. Sure, e-readers and tablets have plenty of good, viable uses, but is there really anything a book, a pen and a highlighter couldn’t do?

But that being said, e-readers are certainly not for everyone. So long as there’s new media to enhance life, so too comes nostalgia and a longing for the past…and with it, a reinvention of dated, vintage articles.

Think of it this way: a form of physical media that’s slowly dying are CDs. With the abundance of MP3s there just seems to be less and less of a need for musicians to release music on physical CDs. MP3s are more accessible and cost-efficient. How many CD stores are still in existence? Fewer and fewer by the minute. However, with the fall of CD stores came a rise in vinyl, and then, record stores. If you’re a music artist looking to put out a new CD, chances are you’ll be more interested in releasing Vinyl along with a digital download slip. Vinyl records had been long-pronounced dead, but now they’re on their way back up – even if it means people have had to purchase turntables or dig out old record players to listen to them!

Nostalgia is a fickle bitch…but she dominates our lives, and we love every minute of it. Brands everywhere, including such big shots like Frito Lay or Pepsi,  are returning to “old” or “vintage” packaging to up their sales. Nickelodeon is starting a lineup on TeenNick of tv shows from the 90s because it’s been in such high demand. Subcultures exist purely within the realm of bringing elements eras like the 50s and 60s into today’s society. And it works, because we love that return to the past…a return to our former selves and way of living, even if it’s just the facade.

Could this also mean the same thing for books and, inevitably, booksellers? I think so. I think even more so in the case of books. Fancy, new gadgets are nice, but books are necessary.  And with local used booksellers still in business, it’s easy to grab a classic piece of literature for under $5.00 and have it for years and years to come – without having to purchase any supplementary devices that cost even more to use it! Sure, purchasing books on Amazon is possible (and hey – it makes it much easier to self-publish your own book and sell it directly on the site or straight to e-readers, and I’m never one against self-publishing) but people just love the feel, the smell, the sensation and the feelings associated with browsing a bookstore and buying books, especially used ones. And that’s something that new technology cannot offer and can never take away.

And lest we forget – libraries still exist. And are much more in use than people like to imagine. If e-readers were to catch on to a point where more and more bookstores were going out of business people will need to find a cheap, preferably free alternative to obtaining literature. And libraries would be one of the only sources to turn to. So please, support your local library. It’s like a trustworthy friend that will always be there so long as you allow it to. Sure Borders may be liquidating everything, but a library will always have books available to you for free (assuming it’s returned on time, of course!). And hey, who doesn’t love free shit?

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Filed under Bookstores, Opinions, Thoughts

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