Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bookstores, RIP?

There is an interesting article in today's Globe and Mail about bookstores, and their (possible?) survival in this digital, aliterate age. Like the whole, "are libraries still relevant?" debate, this article parades out the usual tired comparisons and cloying reassurances. No, actually, it is somewhat worthwhile....

It opens with the usual trite debate question: "Do dedicated booksellers have no choice but to lock the doors, open a long-saved bottle of wine and wait for the cultural tidal wave to wash them away, aged feline store mascot and all?"

Ha. Ha. I'll have you know that during my four year tenure at Nicholas Hoare (whoops! Forgot to include that in my roots! I learned a lot about face-out merchandising, and made good friends in Nicholas, and David McDerby and Myriam David in the now-closed Ogilvy store), we had two lovebirds as mascots. So there. (P.S.: I somehow managed to avoid cage-cleaning duties.......)

The article then goes on to seriously discuss matters. It quotes Ben McNally (former Nicholas Hoare manager, now running his own shop on Bay St. in Toronto, shown above at right, as photographed by me) and Christopher Smith, manager of Ottawa’s own lovely Collected Works, who "agrees with the notion that independent stores must evolve or die." In one vision of the future, bookstores will “transform themselves from mere book purveyors to cultural emporiums or meeting places.” Smith "daydreams 'that in the future I will finish a hand-sell by asking my customer, ‘And how would you like that – hardcover, paperback, audio or e-book?’”

As with libraries, bookstores will be less about the format than about a service (both places have never been about the former, anyway; people just misjudged and romanticised): selling knowledge rather than a paper product, just like we give away knowledge for free, rather than giving away a paper product for free. As libraries search for new partnership and outreach opportunities in the community, so too will bookstores be looking at new opportunities to be a third place.

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