Ma's Bookshop:
A Return to the Independent in a Decline of Chain
Thursday, January 17, 2013
by: Emily Scherrer, Reforma Staff Columnist,

Section: La Opinion

January 2013

Emily Scherrer is the Youth Services Manager for the Yuma County Library District in Yuma, Arizona. When she is not stating her opinion, she can be found hiking in the mountains or reading books while eating cucumber sandwiches. Emily is a Reformista with the Central Arizona Chapter & at large. Read more on Goodreads.

A few evenings ago, after finishing a sensible meal of roasted vegetables, I decided to head to my local book retailer, Barnes & Noble, to check out the scene.  I wish I could say I was doing so under the guise of buying books, or leafing through an elegant fashion magazine, or downing a soothing yet spicy latte’ to round out my rather boring dinner.  Innocent, it was not.  I drove there to “check it out” as in “I’ve heard Barnes & Noble has announced several closing in big cities” and I wanted to see how my local retailer was faring.

the bookstore from days past, the original wood paneled caverns and places of wonder and enchantment, may be making a small (but rather remarkable) comeback

There were the usual book joint patrons: a spotting of dusty, bespectacled men gazing seriously at their laptops, a small group of teens in the cafe’ pooling coins together to buy a sweet from the bakery, and of course, the wandering hippie who had happily plopped himself into an overstuffed chair who appeared to be intermittently dozing in and out of consciousness.  I seemed to be the only real “buyer” except for a lone woman in the religious fiction section who evidently had a fondness for turtlenecks and crucifix key chains.

I was not surprised.  Like most Americans, I no longer visit a bookstore—except online. It was already in April 2011 when Amazon announced it had “sold 105 books for its Kindle e-reader for every 100 hardcover and paperback books, including books without Kindle versions and excluding free e-books.” Alas, while we are not yet a society that only reads on computer devices, the figures are trending in that direction.  Publishers are hurrying to make their popular books digitized for human consumption as fast as they can, while retailers and libraries struggle with the demand for them. The eBook Apocalypse is surely in its beginning, if not middle, stages of development. 

There is no doubt that this technological advent of books has hurt the retail industry.  Many of us bemoaned the loss of Borders in 2011, which couldn’t seem to compete with larger booksellers who were outpacing them in the manufacture of reading tablets.  The rule of the e-book world is simple: stay current, offer it in pixel, or get out.  If Borders is the end result of a chain store that remains unprepared, then Barnes & Noble needs to worry.

After a limp holiday 2012 season, the company has shut down stores in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Seattle, Chicago, Austin, Manhattan, and Dallas.  Overall sales declined 10.9% in the retail trade segment in 2012. The company attributes this to an 8.2% decline in comparable trade sales, store closures, and lower online sales of books and merchandise. 

The Nook, the Barnes & Noble manufactured eReading device, also declined in popularity.  Sales fell 12.6% during the same period of time this past Holiday season. More customers are turning to devices such as the Kindle Fire, where users can also check their Facebook accounts or watch videos.  A device that can “just” read is no longer what the eConsumer desires.  Multi-functioning eReaders have become the new go-to item and if retailers want to stay in the market, they will need to develop more functional e-reader gadgets at an affordable price.  By all accounts, Amazon is crushing their competitors in this arena.

Meanwhile, the bookstore from days past, the original wood paneled caverns and places of wonder and enchantment, may be making a small (but rather remarkable) comeback.  Consumers interested in out-of-print books or rare items are increasingly turning to small, specialized retailers who have an online presence and are willing to deliver. In addition, small bookshops don’t have the high overhead or rents that big box chains must pay, giving them more freedom to stock current titles with just a smattering of the trusted and true classics.

As giant book sellers struggle to dominate the book market through technological innovation and variety, smaller stores become more convenient for the reader, who well, just wants a good book, darn it.  And let’s face it: the Internet is not for everyone. Some people still enjoy the first glance, the first touch and smell of meeting a new book for the first time.  Ah, the pains and joys of a budding relationship.

Change is the norm in the publishing world.  Adaption, in other words, is the key to success.  As eBooks and their popularity continue to rise, large bookstores that contain lots of inventory, thousands of employees to pay, overhead, and the intense pressure of creating technological wonders at a reduced cost may very well perish.

Enter Ma.  Enter Pa.

We’re not full circle yet, but we’re getting there.  The e-book market will become saturated and once again, we’ll turn to the local bookstore; only this time it will be the one on the corner, the owner who survived by selling antique books online to University Libraries on the East Coast during the eBook binge of the first half of the twenty first century.  I can see it happening.  And while Amazon may quietly reign for year to come on its e-book throne, let’s face it:  the chairs and coffee on Main St. will always have some sway-- especially on a lonely, brisk evening when a good dose of nostalgic comfort is in order.

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