The NYT article this past Sunday, The Bookstore's Last Stand , makes note of the disappearing bookshelves, now that Borders is gone, leaving Barnes & Noble as the only bricks and mortar chain with some storefront presence in many communities throughout the US. There is no mystery to the disappearance. We are all online now; we like to read; we have limited time and budgets. Amazon has made it easy to click and receive, at a great discount. They gain market share by making books a loss leader. It's a tried and true business practice. Barnes & Noble finds itself on the ropes, as the world of books and book delivery systems are being upset by one giant player. Amazon takes the role of King of the Hill in this iteration. Google looms not far behind. Not too long ago, the Kings were Borders, and Barnes & Noble, and it was the small bookstores that were obliterated by the new rules of the game. There is no mercy in commerce. With Kindles and Nooks in hand, there is no need to move from a favorite reading chair, proving, as if proof were needed, that a body at rest stays at rest. My book comes to me via Amazon's Whispernet. A whisper is the delivery system of secrets. What's not being whispered, but roared, from the top of the hill: The times are changing, changing utterly, for everyone making a living with books.
What's a writer and a reader to do? I don't really know, just yet. This change feels chaotic and momentous to me. I own a Kindle Fire, an i-Pod Touch, an Android phone, and shelf upon shelf of books. I read. I have a novel, soon ready to launch, and I hesitate. I hesitate for real reasons. Much like waiting for a hurricane to pass, I hunker down and continue to write, and rewrite, waiting for the storm clouds to pass. I understand that this may be the new pace; I will create my own outpost. This is it.
I hear all sorts of arguments about efficiencies of the marketplace and new technologies and how there's no stopping progress. Of course not. I spend half of my day on a computer. I would not want to be without an internet connection, and I have a harder time, with each passing day, trying to remember what it was like not being connected to everything. And yet...
The acquisition and distribution of books has always been more than a commodity driven enterprise. It's always been about ideas and hunches and emotions and creativity and collaboration and presentation and wooing and the storytelling. I've been fortunate enough to meet a few souls on the inside of the publishing world -- people motivated by the love of the book. Their world is being rocked right now. Agents are scrambling, trying to figure out the best way to negotiate these shoals for their stable of authors; editors are given less authority and more work, with little job security; the need for quarterly profits determines what readers will see on the shelves that are dwindling. Amazon morphs from a client of the publishing world, to a super-sized competitor.
To the people in my life under the age of thirty, all of this seems like a no-brainer. Of course things have moved on-line; of course you should create your brand; sell your books; your photos; your content. I can get caught up in their enthusiasm for the new frontier, but I think of all of the voices that aren't capable of the sustained sale's pitch, the look-look-look at me posturing that will be required to be noticed at all, as we dismantle, with speed and little regard, the network of hands that nurtured books into being.