Sunday, January 30, 2011

The End of Dead Tree Books Is Nigh

Via The Weekly Standard, the Washington Post had a piece last week about the decline of Borders Books:

Borders, they know, is struggling to survive. It recently suspended payments to book publishers. Dozens of its stores across the country, including several in the Washington area, have closed. For many in the industry - and for this group of Borders regulars - the question is not whether the chain will go under, but when. 

As far as I know, we don't have a Borders in the Shreveport/Bossier area, but we do still have our Barnes & Noble.  

It seems that much as Netflix and other video-streaming outfits have done to Blockbuster, so too goes Borders.  Will Barnes and Noble be far behind?

Once, Borders was, with rival Barnes & Noble, the long tail of reading, with supermarket-size stores offering thousands of obscure titles alongside bestsellers. Now, Borders confronts the limitless, more efficient supply chain of Amazon's online emporium. Borders, which helped a generation of readers learn the pleasure of diving into a book for hours at a stretch, now competes for the attention of readers who dip into a few pages on an iPad, open Facebook, read some more, then tweet random thoughts. Printed books don't need a power outlet or a data plan, yet for some people, their utility seems to be fading. 

That line:  "...dip into a few pages on an iPad, open Facebook, read some more, then tweet random thoughts"  pretty much sums things up, I guess.  We live in a society that feels the need to "Tweet" when they put their socks in the dryer, when they eat a cheeseburger, get stuck on a train, or are watching a soccer match.  Don't get me wrong - I tweet.  Twitter is fun.  It can be a great way to spread information quickly; it has it's advantages.  But what does it say about us, really?

No, it's more the decline of the dead tree that I'm worried about.  I know there will always be books.  Won't there?  An analogous situation seems to be the closing of my local Blockbuster store.  What am I to do if I suddenly decide on a Saturday night that I want to watch High Anxiety or Top Hat?  I can't just go rent it.  I have to figure out how to stream Netflix onto my TV.  I'm sure it's easy - I've never tried it.  For the record, I'm scoping out all the Red Box outlets near me so I can at least attempt to rent a movie if I want to.

Back to books.  I've tried the Kindle.  I have.  Bride of Rove made me and she loves hers so I gave it an honest legitimate shot.  I downloaded the app for my iPhone and bought two e-books.  I bought a Sue Grafton mystery and I got Andrew McCarthy's The Grand Jihad.  I finally figured out I could highlight and make notes, but still...it's just not the same.  I can't retain what I'm reading as well.  It's too...well, transient.

I can't imagine reading The Pacific on an electronic format.  I'm constantly flipping back and forth for something, looking up something, comparing something, looking at a map....  I suspect you can still do that on a Kindle, but it's not the same.

I'm trying to imagine our landscape without tangible things.  No books.  No DVDs.  No vinyl record albums, and now precious few CDs.  No actual money -just electronic transfers.  It's odd.  We're becoming such a transient society with our streaming this and streaming that.  Digital photographs.  Even our household items like furniture have, in many cases, become disposable and temporary.  None of those sturdy, durable antiques of your grandmother's!

No, what we'll leave behind for archeologists will be broken down computers and parts, remnants of some plastic something or other, lots of styrofoam....  Future generations looking back will find precious few books, family photographs, fragile letters, or sturdy heirlooms.

Cue REM:

6 comments:

Red said...

I too 'feel fine'.

sheryl said...

des moines has a really nice borders. and i like their website. i get some really good coupons from them. hope they survive.

lady di said...

Nothing like the smell of a brand new book, or an old one for that matter. Keep your books near, your grandkids will need them along with future generations.

Anonymous said...

Books will always be around; but they will probably become treasured anachronisms; like my mechanical wristwatch and my fountain pen.

Reaganite Republican said...

Yeah, seems to be the case, Pat.

Linked at Reaganite Republican:

Perusing the Conservative Blogosphere...

quiznilo said...

"but still...it's just not the same. I can't retain what I'm reading as well. It's too...well, transient."

I think "ephemeral" was the word you were looking for. I think... not sure what it means, but it's one of my favorite words just because of the way it sounds and I use it as much as possible.