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Monday, April 16, 2012

Internet Killed The Book Store

Kathleen Kelly just shed another tear.

1998’s You’ve Got Mail saw Meg Ryan’s surprising convincing turn as the second generation owner of The Shop Around The Corner whose spirits sank as she secretly fell in love while her dreams were getting bulldozed by Tom Hanks’ Darth Vader-ish Fox Books.

…now it seems the same thing is happening to book stores in general across the nation.

Yesterday, I passed by my once-favorite Borders in Northern California. The massive parking lot was desolate and the 12,000-square-foot building was comatose.

I remembered the last time I was here—it was just like Black Friday at 8:00 A.M.. The parking lot bulged with cars, shoppers scrambling over the rows of 50% off racks, stripping them clean like rodents around day old chicken in the alley way. Each shopper with armfuls of books. What a festive day it would have been. That is, if it wasn’t so sorrowful. It was October 2011 and the store was in its final days.

How ironic that I picked up a hardcover “Death of a Salesman” for $1.99. Willy Loman would have quipped that it should be renamed, “Death of a Bookstore.”

Just as the British band The Buggles summarized the death of the record store with the 1979 hit “Video Killed the Radio Star”, here it could be said that the Internet Killed the Book store.

With Amazon destroying Borders in the pricing wars and Kindle, iBook, Opus, Nook, Cybook, PocketBook, etc., taking over the reading market, the visit to the book store is part of our ever growing bygone era.

Just after the release of You’ve Got Mail, I read countless articles about when Borders hits your town, it would kill the smaller stores. Look what happened instead. This is the ultimate twist of irony.

Read somewhere online [whoops!] that in the final round of Borders store closings—over 400+ stores and $450+ million in inventory—that the commercial real estate being opened up totaled 6.8 million square feet of space. That’s 120 football fields to you and me.

You wonder if a little bit of distinguished branding might have helped Borders. I mean instead of threatening employee’s people's jobs if they didn't sell particular books that Borders promised to make bestsellers (as former CEO Ron Marshall did for years), they could have solicited their help to make them stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Kathleen Kelly might have saved Borders...
Simply, they should have taken a page from Kathleen Kelly.

Really all of the chains sell the same inventory. What made Borders special were the nuggets of gold each employee would deliver when asked for recommendations. I can’t tell you how many great reads I had based on two-minutes of conversations at the customer service desk. Ad campaigns and out-of-home campaigns should have been built around this intangible. An intangible you simply cannot find at Amazon. They could have brought this interconnectivity to the Internet with live chats that would have welcomed the consumer instead of driving them away with a confusing, unfriendly rewards program that never got its legs (and for good reason).

Yet, I digress…

Don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing wrong with Kindle. I bought my mom one for Christmas two years ago and she loves it. Many friends swear by it. But when technology kills off something as sacred as the book store, something’s not right in the world.

I’m a purist in many respects. I enjoy holding a book. Strolling down the aisles gives you a greater perspective of knowledge. You appreciate the words more. How do you replace the sounds of a freshly cracked spine or the oddly alluring scent of flipping unsullied pages? You cannot. It’s a shame.

Borders. Dead.

Blockbuster. Dead.

What’s next? Starbucks? Now that would be a sad day.

Kindle helped kill the book store.