Will Consumer Behaviour Result in Bookstores Shutting Down?
Book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding — even more than usual for an industry that’s been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades.Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals. Don’t blame this carnage on the recession or any of the usual suspects, including increased competition for the reader’s time or diminished attention spans. What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.
In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them. This is not about Amazon peddling new books at discounted prices, which has been a factor in the book business for a decade, but about the rise of a worldwide network of amateurs who sell books from their homes or, if they’re lazy like me, in partnership with an Internet dealer who does all the work for a chunk of the proceeds.Here’s one example of how I casually wreak destruction. I was reading “Sylvia,” an account by the late short-story master Leonard Michaels of his unstable first wife. Looking for material about Mr. Michaels, I saw his friend Wendy Lesser had written a long essay about him in a book published last year by Pantheon. I could buy a new paperback edition of that book, “Room for Doubt,” for $13.95 plus tax in a bookstore. But there were dozens of copies from resellers available online for as little as one cent, plus shipping.