Is Borders Ensuring That the Handwriting on the Wall is Indelible? And Will Your Next Memoir Only Be Sold Online?

by Kendra Bonnett on February 25, 2011

Book Business PaperclipPost #68 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

The headline on the February 17th email from Book Business magazine read: “Does Borders Bankruptcy Signify the End of Physical Bookstores?” It’s a question that’s probably crossed the minds of all of us invested in the book business…as memoir writers (indeed writers in any genre), readers, booksellers, publishers.

After years of hearing how the digital book simply had to replace printed books, it certainly appears we are growing closer to that time. eBook sales increased 164.8 percent in December 2010 and are now 8.32 percent of the trade book market. While 8.32 percent may not sound like a lot, that’s up from 3.20 percent in 2009. Here’s a link to the Association of American Publishers press release. The rate of growth is sure to continue to rise, and many publishers expect ebooks to be 15 percent of the market by 2014.

I came across this video entitled “Making Books” and produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica Films. After you watch this and see all the people it takes to produce a book, you’ll marvel that books don’t cost us $100 a piece.

Producing ebooks is so much less resource- and capital-intensive. But is the buying experience as satisfying? Well, for me at least Amazon has overcome one of my biggest complaints about buying booking online…browsing. I like to look at a book, read the table of contents, thumb through the chapters and read a few pages before I buy. I’ve had my iPad since June, and while I love it, I hadn’t bought any ebooks. Recently I loaded up the Kindle app, and now I can’t believe how much I love browsing the books on Amazon. I see a book that interests me, and with the click of a button a chapter or two of that book is delivered to my iPad free of charge. The result? I’ve bought more books online in the past couple of months by a factor of three.

Does This Mean Your Memoir Will Never See a Bookstore?

Let’s go back to the original question: Is the Borders problem  a preview of coming attractions? Are we witnessing the demise of the physical bookbstore? I encourage you to read the full article in Book Business. For one thing, you’ll discover that several bad business decisions contributed as much–and probably more–to Borders’ problems.

The article’s author Janet Spavlik actually leaves us on an upbeat note. She feels that brick-and-mortar bookstores (both chains and independents) have an opportunity to reinvent and fill a need. Yes, ebooks are here to stay, but communities need physical destinations. And there’s no reason some of those shouldn’t be our treasured bookstores.

I think of the fabulous independent bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina–Malaprops. It’s been in business since 1982, and it’s going strong and always crowded. The same is true of R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut. Both are destinations for browing, relaxing over a cup of coffee or a light lunch, reading, meeting up with friends, and learning. Both have very active events programs.

Yes, the industry is changing. Yes, most of us will be reading on digital devices within a few years. And yes, I believe that community bookstores that give their patrons a reason to visit and shop will be as busy as ever.



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