Following on yesterday’s thoughts on copyright, this one is a bit of a no-brainer. As a consumer, I find it more and more frustrating every time I set foot in a bookstore. Mind you, I kind of like the ambiance of being surrounded by books, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually bought one there, not for lack of trying.
Over the past couple of weeks, I wandered into four different Chapters stores here in Toronto in search of Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines. One store didn’t have it, but three others listed a few copies in their science section. In each store, I looked around and couldn’t find it, asked staff for help and they couldn’t find it either. Eventually, I ordered the hard copy online. I only got the physical copy because I’m planning to cite it in my next book – long-time blog readers know I’ve mused before about one problem with e-books, that they don’t actually have page numbers, which makes citations hard if not impossible.
Lo and behold, Amazon just recently announced it is adding real page numbers to its e-books. Problem solved. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever buy a physical book again.
The death of the bookstore is already happening. U.S. chain Borders is facing bankruptcy, with others sure to follow. Other chains that sell physical stuff, like HMV or Tower Records, have diversified into other goods – they haven’t been about just music for some time now. Bookstore chains have been making similar moves, opening up cafes and selling things like candles and umbrellas, but it really won’t make sense to sell physical books for much longer. They take up a hell of a lot of space, which means real-estate costs are often quite high. Over the next 10 years, many of them will close or morph into something completely different.
What about libraries? Well, they’re giant repositories of physical books too and they will likely change dramatically as their inventories are digitized. Libraries are considerably different, though, in that they’re primarily research centres. I’m of the belief that with a surfeit of digitized content, libraries – and especially librarians – will become even more important. The buildings they’re in may shrink over the next decade, but their importance will grow.