No doubt, Online is here to stay. But that bookstores are literally wiped out is something disconcerting.
I could talk about all the economic impact. How the value of the book itself as literature, as art, is diminished. How writers may feel lower valued, seeing their work being discounted. The environmental cost for deliveries and exchange returns. The loss of knowledgable staff, being replaced by semi-automated packers.
But this is only one part of the story. Going to a brick and mortar bookstore is something like an expedition. You don’t know what to expect. Don’t know what you may leave home with. The people you may meet there, in particular if the shop has a coffee shop.
You open the door and the scent of printed paper, ink, a slight mustiness travels up your nose. A symphony of colour to eyes. Rows of shelves, loaded with slim and wider backs of books. Small pocket sized, large, heavy, coffee table one. Some with small print and hundreds of pages, other with large pictures of you dream destination, your favorable artist, designer, painter. The shelves interrupted by islands of new editions, specials, special releases. Maybe a signing session by an author. All this expects you. And more.
You explore the rows. Pick a book. Read a few lines. Put it back. Explore another. Discover an author you never heard about. Get stuck and read on.
You venture through aisles of subjects, you may not even expect to find interesting. But a book catches your interest. You grab it. Flick through. Catch on and find yourself reading more than you expected. A new discovery.
A bookstore is a treasure trove of gems you did’t even know exist. All of this you miss if you buy online. Of course you may think along the line of an eBay slogan many years ago outside a shopping mall “have a look at ….. and buy it cheaper on eBay”. But eventually the retailer will disappear for good and there is nowhere to go exploring and find things you never expected.
A bookstore, any store gives you opportunities to see, to find, to experience. All of this you throw away if you buy online. And do not think, it doesn’t matter if I, because others will… they may not and it is you and your family, your children, nephews and nieces and your community will loose out if you let online replace your local store. The online only cares about profit. The brick and mortar store about you.
But if these stores disappear, what I will miss most is the smell of the real bookstore. The excitement of finding knowledge I never expected…
PS. I started my professional life in retail and I always, most of the time, enjoyed the interaction with my customers. From that perspective I would regret the loss of physical shops. Any shop. I am not paid by anyway to promote retail or work against online.