Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Die, Bookstores, Die, Part II

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo took a righteous drubbing over the past few weeks after he suggested online book-seller Amazon was eating independent bookstores’ lunch. He’s back now, thankfully unrepentant.

Here’s the best part of his new screed:
Many defenders of bookstores countered that by focusing on dollars and cents, I’d missed the whole point of these establishments. Bookstores, it turns out, don’t primarily exist to sell books—instead, they’re more like bars for readers. “Bookstores provide a space to meet friends, cruise for a date, and hide out when you have nothing to do on a Saturday night,” Will Doig wrote at Salon. I suspect that many bookstore lovers agree with Doig, which is exactly why many of these shops are going out of business. Bars can survive because alcohol is an extremely profitable good. Books aren’t—so if you think of your favorite bookstore as a comfortable spot to find well-read potential mates rather than as a place for commerce, you’re not helping its owner.
His solution? Brick-and-mortar stores need to embrace smartphone technology (he apparently forgets that while smartphones are ubiquitous, not everyone has one. I don’t; I’m not willing to shell out the cash for a monthly data plan, let alone the cell phone plan the damn things come shackled with). He suggests bookstores create their own apps to help their customers find books through recommendations or simply educate staff on Amazon’s endless pit of reviews to help customers find books they might like to read.

I guess I’m not as tech-heavy as Manjoo would have me be. The sole reason I like bookstores is that the shopping there is visceral; I can feel the books, handle them, read the blurbs and see what might be on the next shelf without having to sort through a bunch of shill reviews or reviews by folks intent on panning everything in the universe. And I have to confess that one of the reasons I like shopping in thrift stores for used books is that sometimes there’s a bonus inside the books I buy: odd bookmarks, autographs, etc. All I get at bookstores is bookstore propaganda.

So what would I look for in a book store app? Nothing. I doubt I’d use one. I’m just not that shackled to technology.

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