Borders' closure and the end of the book.
The end of the book, may not be far off. Borders bookstore are closing all remaining 399 stores in America, and are liquidating the company. For those who grew up, browsing the shelves of Borders this may come as a shock – but it is probably only the beginning of the end, for the traditional bookstore and, even, the traditional book.
The closure of Borders will have multiple effects on books and book buying. Firstly, by reducing the number of stores available at which to buy books, it would increase the average distance to a bookstore, for the average American. This makes the buying of books more inconvenient. This will have an obvious effect: American readers (or those that still read, anyway), will seek a more convenient alternative – the ereader, most probably the Kindle, but it could be the Nook (by Barnes and Noble), too, or any of the other ereaders. Thus, instead of travelling further for a bookstore, many former book buyers, may just download their reading material with an ereader. They may become habitual ereaders, once they see its convenience, and may never again return to bookstores, on a regular basis. So, the closure and liquidation of Borders bookstore, is likely to provoke an increase in the rate of exodus from the traditional book, to ebooks.
However, the end of Borders, will relieve pressure on their competitors, to some extent, meaning that it might, for instance, save Barnes and Noble from a similar end, at least for the foreseeable future.
Yet, the long term picture for the traditional book is not a healthy one. Ebook readership is growing fast and looks set to grow faster still. As word of its convenience spreads, so too will the take up of this new medium. The cost basis of traditional publishing is not going to go away – yet the breadth of distribution is in decline. This means that fewer and fewer traditional books, will be able to turn a profit. Thus, publishers will become ever more conservative in whom they publish, greatly restricting the type of book that gets published traditionally. This would mean an even greater focus on big name authors, bestsellers and celebrity “authors” (ghostwritten, usually). This could mean that the traditional book becomes the preserve of those who have no real taste, or whose taste is that which is most common and conventional in the culture. This would alienate, further, those whose tastes run to the more eclectic (once served by bookstores) – again accelerating the flight to ereaders and ebooks.
The end result of this will be that books become a very modest niche in the world’s – or at least America’s - reading culture. Ebooks will dominate and relatively few bookstores will remain. Indeed, it is possible, one day, that there might be no bricks and mortar bookstores – the only ones might be online ones, like Amazon.
Living in Asia, though, I do note the present popularity of books and bookstores here. I rather think that the book might last longer in Asia, than elsewhere, since books are popular, and ereaders are not. Indeed, Kindle doesn’t even work in Asia and Pacific, according to the Amazon website (unless you trick them).
So, in a sort of reverse Gutenberg, we might see the book retreat from the West, with America leading and seek a holdout in the East. Would it not be strange if the twilight of the book, saw its last stronghold, the Orient? What would Johannes Gutenberg have thought of that?
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