A Book Store Lament


You probably know the feeling.  You're in the mood to read... something.  You may or may not have the time to read, but it's just time to do it anyway. You enter a book store, walk past all the books the publishers pay for you to see, and find that particular section that calls to you on a particular occasion.   

The hunt. For some, this is a joyous time.  For others, it's a favored means of passing the time.  Personally, I don't read a lot of books, but I do enjoy browsing the shelves.  But, there's a foreboding sadness to it as well, if you're paying attention. 

Visit a Border's or Barnes and Noble, and you may notice that the (overpriced) music section is no longer there.   For the book lover, that's great news, as there's even more room for the books!  For now.  But realize, too, that Kindle and her many descendents will gradually assimilate all the bits and bytes currently bundled as ink on paper.

Environmentalists should rejoice at this as bookworms across the nation join the mythical Green house.  Fewer trees will be killed, fewer polluting logging trucks will haul them, less energy and water will be needed to process pulp, gas will be saved transporting the paper, fewer chemicals will be needed in printing, even more gas will be saved trucking the books to warehouses, less energy will be needed lighting the warehouses and fueling their forklifts, less gas (are we a solar nation yet?)will be needed trucking the books to a retail outlet, less energy will be needed to heat and light the booksellers, and, finally, less gas will be wasted on your travel to the store. 

Instead, press "Enter" while browsing on your eco-friendly laptop, hook up the USB cable to your reader of choice, and you're done.  Your fingertips can meet your needs more readily than your car, and you're saving the earth to boot.  So what if we become unexercised blobs dependent on technology?Walle passenger  (See Wall-E... Seriously, you should.)

And people wonder why I lament the passing of CDs.

Record stores are dying.  First there was the Big Box pressure of Best Buy and others who offered CDs at more reasonable prices than listed retail.  Amazon.com probably didn't help as virtually any rare find, manufactured domestically or around the world, could be clicked into a package and delivered to the doorstep.  Add in the iTunes phenomena and an American Idolized fascination with our most extroverted karaoke singers, and popular demand changes from albums to singles. Mix in a sense of entitlement by the youth population for finding and sharing music online for free, and the economic model is irreversibly challenged for the good ol' record shop.

I went to Best Buy to purchase my first CD of the new year (to be reviewed shortly), as I couldn't pass up a $9.99 price tag.  Why didn't I favor an independent music store in the area?  I live in the northern Atlanta suburbs.  There are a few used CD stores, but there's literally not one independent store worth supporting.

Notably, my local Best Buy appears to have reduced their CD rack space by 10%.  I'm not surprised.  Sure, there's a likelihood that they'll bulk up prior to Thanksgiving for the seasonal surge, but they get a better return on other products in their floor plan.  Ask a college kid, and they'll tell you: No one buys CDs anymore

Just wait until today's music buying generation becomes the mainstay of tomorrow's book buying generation.  You best go to your favorite bookseller now, while you still can.  Enjoy the many spines in their splendor, the artwork on the covers, the titles or subjects that you would not otherwise have comei spy at Borders across to find something that unexpectedly piques your interest. 

Savor the aroma of the java you purchased from the symbiotic Starbucks, grab a seat by the vacant "music download station" and enjoy the tactile feel of opening hardcovers to read inside the dust jackets.  And as you read through a book or magazine on their bench without buying it, ask yourself, are books really so different from CDs?


  1. The same can be said for video stores. For a brief few years, these became the hub of local communities, a place where people could go on a Friday or saturday night to run into neighbors, catch up with friends, and browse the aisles, looking for some coverbox that indicated a possible hidden gem. Ah, I really miss those days.....

    Look at it this way: our parents used to lament the passing of such stalwarts as single-screen downtown movie theatres ("movie palaces"), variety shows and westerns (Gunsmoke in particular) on TV, NASA's heyday, and the big band era. Change is constant.


  2. Your commentary perhaps casts a very large net. It is almost like discussing the very pure feeling of flight in glider and comparing it to the old (United?) hourly shuttle between LAX and SFO.

    One aspect deals with the American need to have music with them. I remember having an 8-track recorder/player. Ah, the feeling of freedom of being able to take my music with me. It did not stop there. Soon, there were the cassettes. Remember not using the 90min then 120min cassettes because everyone warned that they were too thin? Then the first use of CDs. We would sacrifice the instability of the player just so that we could have our music. It was only a short hop-skip to the MP3 player.

    Another aspect deals with the record companies. Their quest to make money took us many places. Some of it had to do with the length of the music (cue Billy Joel reference). Don’t make it much longer! Then they would argue that each progression in the change (LP>8-track>cassette>CD>mp3) would lose money, but in the end, they embraced it.

    The artists get blame too. Many of my older albums have a much higher percentage of enjoyable songs compared to those released today – you know, a couple of good songs and then some fillers.

    The hunt? Just type in Google or Amazon. It is almost as if the whole process was designed to drive us from the store to iTunes.

    The move to e-book is also there, just more subtle. There are more than enough people who enjoy the read without cracking a spine!

    Think dirty school bus with wings…..

  3. Thanks for posting!

    As to music, it's fair to say that given an efficient means of buying songs that they like, people have less incentive to pay more for songs that they may not like. It will be interesting to see how music artists make a living at it in the near future.