Monday, February 18, 2008

Another bookstore bites the dust

It's rather sad to see another independent bookstore close. I once worked in one (which is also no longer in business) and have spent a lot of money in them.

Alas, I rarely buy books from bookstores anymore. I still buy books, just not from bookstores. (notice my banner link) now gets most of my business. Apparently, I'm not the only one:

Staff at The Book Room, a 169-year-old shop presently located on a corner of Halifax's bustling Barrington Street, unwittingly opened the box to discover the same titles they already had in stock -- plus an invoice from one of the big Internet booksellers.

"Somebody had ordered a bunch of books from Amazon," Charles Burchell, who managed the bookstore for more than 40 years, recounted in a recent interview. "To find that it was books we had on our shelves that they could have had in five minutes rather than five days if they'd walked downstairs ... that really made us sit up and take notice."

It was a slap in the face to the independent store that has been fighting a losing battle against book behemoths, the proliferation of literature to supermarkets and big box stores and the convenience of Internet ordering for the better part of a decade.

"It said to me that there's a group of people out there who don't want to make use of a bookstore," Mr. Burchell lamented. "We really couldn't see a future anymore."

It is easy to get all nostalgic, but this is about economics. Before the internet, a knowledgeable clerk in an independent bookstore was a key source of information. Most clearly loved books and could be a very valuable resource, particularly if their interests happened to coincide with yours. In part, it was this knowledge that you paid for when you bought a book at list price.

With the internet, that information and more is available online for free. The economies of scale for an online bookseller in providing this information are virtually limitless. An independent bookstore cannot really compete against that without embracing the same tools or by focusing on very specialized market niches.

Sadly, it is either adapt or perish.