By: Janet Kim | English Columnist
I remember throughout my childhood, up until the latter years of high school, I spent the majority of my time with my nose in a book. I almost looked forward to making the dreadful trip down to my local bookstore to throw my money at all the college/SAT prep organizations with blurbs like “#1 SAT PREP BOOK!!!” thrown messily across their workbook covers. Because as soon as I picked out my SAT books, I would quickly find a home inside of literally every other shelf of the store. Sci-fi, young adult, thriller, romance, literature, non-fiction. You name it, I’ve lived in it.
Nowadays, the newfound technological movement of our era has provided its people with a simpler and more efficient means to do just about anything-problem solving, pattern observation, qualitative assessments. The list goes on and on. Social media and the notion of all things quick!!! and efficient!! have directed our preferences towards a more convenient measure of imaginative fulfillment- images, videos, VISUALS!!! Did I mention visuals? No longer are we solely responsible for feeding our boredom- we now have to feed our impatience just as much, if not more frequently, than the former. Reading has almost entirely shifted online over the recent years, with large e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble providing customers with what they desire most: instant gratification. What these large corporations have done essentially, is provide readers the option to opt out of a large commitment task: going to the local bookstore and completing the transaction in person. Instead, the customer can now simply click and read.
Rewind about six years back in time. Borders was a major bookstore, offering a boastful selection of over ten thousand different works, all within the corners of a neat and overall enjoyable user-space. Its biggest competitor at the time was Barnes & Noble, a corporation that offered essentially the same experience, but with one big difference: a larger focus on e-books and their new online e-reader, the Nook. Borders was eventually forced to close all of its branches by September of 2011, reaching its demise with massive financial debt. According to Josh Sanburn of TIME, “Borders didn’t foresee the rise of e-books like Amazon and later, Barnes & Noble did. It didn’t develop its own e-reader to compete with the Kindle or the Nook, and Borders only opened an online e-book store a year ago.” This and Border’s decision to outsource its online book-selling to Amazon, diminishing brand recognition and cutting into its own customer base, was ultimately what many believed forced Borders out of the market.
Many say Borders’ downfall was due to the company’s lack of knowledge about the market and its failure to recognize the importance of the shift into a seamless, well-integrated online platform, but a part of me would really like to believe that this standstill was intentional. In comparison to its more successful competitor, going to Borders always felt like a more genuine book-reading experience, as there was no Nook Kiosk shining luminously in the forefront of the store in what seemed to be the company shoving online book-reading down my throat. There was just a very subtle intentionality in the structure of every Borders I went to- its focus was truly on the books contained within the hundreds of bookshelves. Despite Borders also attempting to up the ante through the use of e-reading devices such as the Kobo and the Cruz, its marketing focus was never on the online sector but rather its physical collection. This misfortune is not exclusive to Borders, as even numerous Barnes & Nobles branches have been shutting down in recent years, and countless vintage/indie bookstores have been met with a similar fate.
Realistically speaking, I can agree that visiting the bookstore is not entirely feasible for the modern millennial as well as future generations, as we are now being programmed from a young age to seek constant stimulation and find loophole measures to finish tasks more quickly. It can be seen as heavily impractical for the modern working-(wo)man or student to designate a time in their day to visit their local bookstore and loom through multiple mazes of books just to find the one they like most. On the reverse, if one has a particular work in mind to purchase, that is something that can also be done more quickly on the internet. So why not eradicate the bookstore entirely and put an end to this less economically practical means of reading?
Because sometimes the impractical wins over the practical. There is no matter-of-fact reason as to why we should fight for the bookstore. Whether we would like to believe it or not, however, there is a very specific charm bookstores offer: a charm that can be found nowhere else in the world. Recounting memories I had as a child, I see myself entering my local bookstore and being greeted by shelves twice my size, all containing a number of books I probably couldn’t even count to at that age. Scanning quickly through book covers, looking at the various colors and artworks splattered across the front, reading random little bits of whatever page my little hands decided to open the book to, it was all a part of the fun. If bookstores and physical books were to meet their end anytime soon, I genuinely feel as though nothing else could provide that adrenaline rush you get when you purchase a new hardcover and in an effort to contain your excitement, delicately press your fingers against the spine. Or the feeling you get when you turn the soft, yet crisp corners of a new book and catch a whiff of the indescribable scent wafted into the surrounding air.
As a society, I believe it is our responsibility to fight against the complete digitization of the reading experience and preserve our most basic method of book-reading to prevent this from becoming a lost art. I encourage any of you reading this to support your local bookstore, whether that be a large corporate one such as Barnes & Nobles, or the neighborhood mom and pop shop, and make that trip a little more willingly.
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