Do Bookstores Have a Future?


The Village Voice asks Do Bookstores Have a Future? The last decade has not been kind to the traditional corner bookshop. Battered by online discounts and chain superstores, the American Booksellers Association has crumbled from 5,200 bookstores in 1991 to 1,702 stores in 2005. So if you were to seek a summary of their dilemma, this one might sound apt: "The old-fashioned bookstore was a charming place, but charm alone will not solve the problem of modern book distribution. . . . Hard though it may be to face the fact, the bookstore of today cannot primarily be a place for those who revere books as things-in-themselves."


One of the most professional gaggle of booksellers I've ever known worked at the Marshall Fields flagship store at 111 N. State in Chicago. It was not unusual to see literary stars like Stephen King, Mortimer Adler, etc. in the stacks, autographing their books, tastefully ignored by the staff, most of whom had been there for decades. The staff in the book department was very proud of their expertise, very bright, and a little snotty since they were book people and they could find anything for anyone. Alas, all good things come to an end and the book department is no more.
A few months ago, the powers that be at Fields (soon to be Macy's) were called into work early one morning. They thought it was to learn a new program on the computer but they were all fired on the spot, with security present to make sure they did not cause a fuss. Fields decided to eliminate the entire department and did not even make a token effort to find the staff other positions. Nasty, cruel, and totally unwarranted. The old booksellers are a dying breed and I do miss them and their skills now that we are stuck with discount sellers.

From the article There's also, he notes, customer education through programs like ABA's Book Sense.

Book Sense is useless. If I want to buy the DaVinci Code from Book Sense the only bookstore that Book Sense gives as an option is 50 miles away. The grocery store 2 block from my house has it for sale.

Article title: Bookstore closes as megachain opens
In the article there are two quotes from the bookstore owners that you wouldn't think you would see from someone about to close their store because of Borders.

Quote #1

`Borders is a response to customer demand. There's nothing evil about it, it's just business,'' he said.

Quote #2

People want the vast selection of books a store like Borders can carry, andthey want them at the prices Borders can offer, Van Doren said. He said even he is in awe of the store's selection, including obscure topics he favors, like those on number theory. He's now reading a book he first saw at Borders called Prime Obsession, a book about the mathematical theory that figured prominently in the movie, A Beautiful Mind.

The article mentions the Thor Power Tool case as its impact on publishing. Thor is a tax case that deals with how businesses calculate inventory for tax purposes. There is an excellent detailed discussion of Thor at

I highly reccomend you read the article at that link. It clears up may common misperceptions about what Thor actually does.

Marshall Field's book department was the largest bookstore in the world back in the early part of the 20th century. And it actually invented the tradition of the public book signing--bringing in authors like Somerset Maugham, Aldous Huxley, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, and G.K. Chesterton. Field's took its book department very seriously. Please don't blame Field's for the shabby way its book department staff got treated. The bully is Federated Department Stores, which now owns Field's and which will be turning that venerable department store into a Macy's in September. But shoppers are starting to organize against the move. Hundreds are now wearing lapel stickers that say "Keep It Marshall Field's." Get yours. They're free at Will the movement succeed? Well, that's a tall order. But at least we'll got down fighting.

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