Thursday, August 11, 2011

Are Books Dying?


Hello Dear Readers,

Today is a sad day for readers in my little city. Aqua Books, an innovative used book store, restaurant, and creative space for writers, just announced that it is closing its doors.

Aqua Books was a risky venture from the beginning--converting a huge old Chinese restaurant into a vibrant space for book lovers was no easy feat. I applaud its owners, Kelly and Candace Hughes, for locating their dream business in the city's downtown...a place that is usually deserted by 7 p.m. (unless the Fringe Festival is on), and where many people are still too afraid to park or walk down the street.

In spite of the risks, Aqua Books seemed to be thriving. There were tons of well-attended literary events each month, and whenever I dropped by--either to buy too many books, have lunch at Eat! Bistro, or see a show, the place was packed. Kelly even supported local artists by having writers and photographers in residence. It was a bustling, exciting place to be...so what happened?

Sadly, Kelly blames Aqua's downfall on a decreasing number of readers. The following quote is from the goodbye email he sent to his customers last night:

"The real problem with bookselling is something I have alluded to in the last couple of months. It's a cultural shift away from reading. Smart phones, Facebook, and The Internet are all part of what has replaced reading time. I won't beat it to death, but it's an irreversible change in people's habits. You may still read and love books as much as you always have, but you are now in the minority. Book sales here have dropped 30% in the last year. (That's why McNally seems like it's all saltshakers and aprons these days.) "

Obviously, if this is true, it's very sad news for writers, and for people who know the value of losing themselves in a book. I can't imagine life without books, and even though e-books are more environmentally friendly, I'm still addicted to the printed page. I love used book stores. They're like treasure hunting: you always come away with something fantastic and unexpected. Plus, used books have history. I've bought books with personal inscriptions, and found photographs, letters, and postcards tucked inside others. Together, they tell the story of other people who have loved that particular book, and perhaps had their lives shaped or changed by it in some way.

I'm also an Amazon customer. I'm not going to lie about that. Sometimes I like to spend hours hunting through a charming bookstore, and other times I'm in a hurry and just want everything delivered to my door, shiny-new, with free shipping. My boss once tried to buy a book at McNally, another local bookstore, only to be told that they didn't have it in stock and would have to order it from Amazon for him. (With a mark-up included, I'm sure.) With service like that, it's no wonder that Amazon is smoking the competition.

But I do think places like Aqua Books are important, and I'm always very sad to see one of them go. I hope I don't live long enough to see a world without bookstores.

What do you think, Dear Readers? Why are bookstores having such a hard time? Do you find yourself reading less? If so, why?

9 comments:

  1. Books are not dying. They are being transformed by technology. The number of iPads, Android Tablets, Kobo Readers and Kindles out there is growing. Google Books is launching their own service.
    In fact, more small books/essays are being sold online than ever before, and more authors can publish electronically while protecting their copyright (Adobe Digital Editions is the most common tool, but Amazon and Kobo Books do the same).
    The latest available data (3rd quarter of 2010) shows that in the US alone e-book sales surged to $119.7 million. People can check more info here: http://idpf.org/about-us/industry-statistics
    What is ending is the era of the bookstore that traces its past to the coffee houses in Europe that were the icon of the Enlightenment period.
    Since buying my e-reader a year ago, I read all my magazines there as well as books. I have the Kindle app installed as well as Kobo Books and Feedbooks. I can get a book 30 to 40% cheaper instantly. I can read the first three pages before deciding to buy. And the books are stored in the cyber cloud so I can access them at any time.
    Our social networks have become virtual, so the transformation goes beyond bookstores. But as it happened with other industries (say typewriter manufacturers), times are changing in the publishing world.
    Cheers,
    Javier

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  2. I try and read as often as I can. It's not that easy, especially those times when I'm working outside the home. Still, I squeeze in reading time when I'm in the car (we live 45 minutes out of town and yes, Hubby's driving!).I read during my lunch break, some days when I'm not jotting down notes, basically any time I can get a few spare moments. It's not easy especially when I need time to write. I firmly believe that we make time for the important things.

    As for bookstore, it seems there's too much competition out there. People can get good deals online and they do. These days it's hard to blame anyone for looking to save money. Myself, I have a few local bookstores that I like to support because I do think bookstores are important.

    Sorry that you lost a local bookstore..That is sad.

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  3. There are less bookstores open-I used to regularly go to a used bookstore close to my home that closed up shop over a year ago. I sometimes went to McNally's, but they closed at PP too. I am not a Chapters fan, so they are a last resort for me. I am a happy Kindle owner who can get books 24/7 in less than a minute, although I still buy actual books too (from McNally, Chapters, Walmart, and Amazon). I can't imagine giving up reading-if anything I read more now than ever...

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  4. Posting for Joce:

    Hi Holli,

    Thanks for another fine blog post, and one that poses a provocative question.

    It is indeed sad to hear that Aqua books, the cultural hub, will be shutting down its whole operation for good. A sobbing shame. Kelly and Candace worked so hard to bring their dream to perfection, and they did it, offering a unique meeting place for writers and artists. I so enjoy my times there attending Speaking Crow and other events.

    And like you, I enjoy browsing the shelves of these small and intimate bookstores with their eclectic selections. It is like embarking on a treasure hunt - never know quite what I’ll find. So much more satisfying than those big box stores with their huge floor to ceiling displays of the “Best Sellers” row upon row of the same promotional novel. What’s novel in that? I hate to imagine the day when all small independents disappear for good.

    However, I find it hard to believe that people are reading less. All the folks I know are avid readers, even the young set with busy budding careers and young families try to read a page or two before falling asleep. (And enjoy reading bedtime stories to their children.) Modern technology may have changed our habits, but I believe “real books” the paper variety, will still hold their appeal for many readers, for a long time to come. Today on the bus I counted at least seven people engrossed in paperbacks. (Okay, so I didn’t count the ones mesmerized by Blackberries, iPods and MP3 players.)

    In this economic climate no doubt it is true we are buying fewer books, and turning to inexpensive alternatives. For me, second-hand books offer such a choice. But I must confess I am also using the library much more. Here again, technology has made a difference, it is now so easy to browse the library catalogues and put holds on your selection from the comfort of your home computer. (of course you then need to exercise patience waiting for your number to come up. But if you always have books on-the-go then it all works out.) I too must ‘fess up’ to occasionally buying books on-line. I used to belong to the Quality Paperback Book Club, but guess what…? They too have gone under. Possibly high postal rates coupled with efforts to offer free shipping didn’t help their bottom line. But, I still refuse to purchase books at the supermarket or department stores, preferring to support our local bookstores. The sheer pleasure of spending time among those magical stacks is worth the extra few dollars on the book.

    Yes, it is going to be hard loosing our comfortable accessible meeting place, Aqua, the cultural city hall. It will be sadly missed and not forgotten....

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  5. Maybe we'll lose more smallish or cozy bookstores than we'd like, but I really don't think that books themselves are dying. Even though I have gone nearly entirely digital with my artwork, and am now busier than ever before, I still like to pick up a book to read, and in these busy times, I find it especially destressing to read. So I doubt that our busy schedules will eliminate our reliance on books. Perhaps for some, but I doubt this will be the case for everyone. On another note, even though print books may suffer in the future due to e-readers, I don't think that this phenomenon will adversely affect the market for reading material. On the contrary, since my wife got a Kindle, she tells me that she reads more books, if anything, because of the ease of their acquisition and because of the portability of her library in this form. In other words, I would have to question the idea that writers have much to fear from the trend of the increasingly digital book market. Keep on writing! I think you'll have more fans than ever!

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  6. I read more books than ever - but on my iPad.

    Reading book-length works isn't dead, but reading them on paper is.

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  7. Thanks for your fantastic comments, everyone! I'm thrilled to hear that people are still reading, but remain sad about the possible extinction of the neighbourhood bookstore.

    Yes, as Javier (Manitoban) said above, older technology is constantly having to make way for the new. In the case of the typewriter, the word processor, the computer, and the laptop were great improvements. I don't miss using carbon paper and white-out at ALL. But are downloading ebooks and reading them by ourselves really an improvement on the sense of community one finds at a local bookstore? There's a human connection at the best of these places that is sadly lacking in a lot of our lives--sort of like using Facebook as a substitute for actually seeing or phoning a friend.

    If we're moving away from bookstores and coffee shops, I just hope something emerges to take their place...something better.

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  8. I think bookstores are getting few and far between because of e-books; You don't have to go out into town to buy a book, e-books tend to be cheaper and e-books don't take up any space. That said though, going to a book store can be nice (especially when there's a coffee shop!).

    It is a shame that bookstores are 'dying out' but i suppose it can't be helped.

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  9. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous, and welcome to my blog!

    I love the experience of going to a bookstore, so I hope they don't die out, but--that said--I'm also guilty of buying most of my books on Amazon.

    E-books do seem to be the more practical and environmentally-friendly option, but I hope we still have "the real thing" for a long, long time. There is just nothing like the feel of a brand-new book (or the smell of an old one).

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