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Friday, November 27, 2009

Bookshops. Remember them?

The announcement that Borders is closing down prompted one of those moments of cognitive dissonance that stops you in your tracks.

I loved Borders and have many happy memories of spending hours in various branches from San Francisco to Silverlink and quite a few in between.

And yet...

A couple of weeks ago I was in the nearest branch of Borders with my pal, Tim, looking for a potential birthday present. Despite the somewhat truncated stock (I was unaware of their financial problems at the time), I managed to locate the book in question.

Making my way to the till I looked at the price - £7.99. Unbidden the thought “I bet Amazon do it cheaper” popped up in my mind and, dear reader, to my shame I put the book back.

After Tim had dropped me home I went online and sure enough there was the same book. £5.00 (including postage). I clicked the button and the book arrived at about 7.30 a.m. the next morning.

A while back I read somewhere (I’m sorry I can’t find the reference now) that stores like Borders were really becoming little more than a showroom for Amazon and in this instance it proved to be true.

Whilst the online purchase wins the price war it has yet to come up with a satisfactory system to replicate coming across the unexpected. A search engine is a poor substitute for what is, for me, the most pleasurable part of book buying: not knowing what you’re looking for until you find it.

However, as much as I love the idea of going into a bookshop a cursory glance at my Amazon account’s recent purchase history shows I’m also one of those folks with the metaphorical blood of Borders closure on my hands.


The Confused said...

It's a similar thing with record stores isn't it? One little pleasure in life is vanishing in the music and book world - the thrill of the chase... visiting such places with an item in mind, but stumbling across something else instead, just as wonderful or unexpected. It was a great way of discovering new product. Searching for it on Amazon... great... yes, it's cheaper, but you miss the chase and discovery.

Beware of digital reading devices as well... they will be the final nail in the coffin like mp3 and downloads were to the record retail industry. Newspapers and magazines will also suffer... as if they haven't done so already - witness the demise of Sounds and Melody Maker leaving us with just the NME. The effects it had on the NME has been devastating - it used to champion the alternative, but now it's mainstream. I nearly fainted the day they had Justin Timberlake on it's cover... they love Lily Allen too... what?!?!

We are witnessing the unthinkable... the devaluation of Creativity... it is becoming impossible to make money through music - unless you're a BIG established name - and the same is gonna happen in the world of literature.

Reading Robert Fripp's never ending battles against piracy and copyright theft, idiocy and cons in the live entertainment field hammers it home. We live in grim times.

Sid Smith said...

The change in society and in particular its relationship to the arts is seismic. Whilst many people I know are fully embracing of the "everything should be free" culture as it relates to music, I'm extremely pessimistic.

And whilst it's great being able to disseminate and distribute music without the dead-hand of the record industry, what nobody has figured out yet is how anyone is going to make a living if it's all free.

I think you're right about the devaluation of creativity as a whole, where in effect only the richest strata of performers, creators will be able to exist.

Barbarian times for sure!

The Confused said...

I definitely share your extreme pessimism about the "everything should be free" culture.

Look back at the late 60's and the hippy culture demanding everything should be "free." What happened? The free festivals ended up being disasters and most artistes avoided them like the plague.

As was proved back then, 40 years ago, doing everything for "free" didn't work, so artistes were able to keep making money - after creative accounting took it's share of course. Now though, it's a very hostile environment.

I was in a band two years ago and we were bankrupted because when it came to doing gigs we came up against "pay to play" which is now in practise almost everywhere. Cost us a fortune. No chance of recouping any costs. The contract was pretty nasty and extremely unfair, forbidding us to play anywhere within a 25 mile radius 25 days both sides of the gig... meaning getting a regular gig was impossible.

Rehearsing cost a fortune, recording cost a fortune yet there was no way of making any of the money back. And this is the environment young bands now find themselves in. BAD news for Creativity. How can they perform and give their music away for free when one cannot even reclaim the initial outlay? What is the incentive? What is the point?

Dark times indeed.


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