Sunday, July 24, 2011

BORDERS CLOSES ITS DOORS: Is The Death of the Brick and Mortar Book/Music Store Upon Us?

I love bookstores almost as much as I love music stores.  Growing up I would often take a bus downtown (about a 45 minute ride) to go to General Records, an infamous downtown record store that carried all the albums and 45-rpm singles that mainstream record stores never carried.  I purchased albums such as the Jeff Beck Group’s TRUTH and THE ROD STEWART ALBUM, when Rod-the-Mod was a degenerate rocker, even before The Faces reformed around him. Most of the time I did not know what was newly released, so going through the vinyl bins made discovery exciting.

The same was true with bookstores.  I would gravitate to the magazine section or the movie or music book sections.  I even checked out some fiction.  But the anticipation of finding something fresh and original fueled my journeys.  And it was a tactile, hands-on experience!

But in those days that was the only way to find books, music and magazines. 

I have to admit when the Internet began to publish the release dates of upcoming music CDs and books, the discovery aspect of going to brick and mortal shops was greatly diminished.  Why take the time and spend the gas to travel a great distance to perhaps find something I wanted when the purchase of that specific book or record was one click way at home?  Also, for most Internet sales you may pay shipping but mostly you never paid sales tax.  And you save on gas and time.  There’s never enough time!

True, it never has been quite as much fun searching out books, magazines and CDs/downloads online as it was venturing to overstuffed and crowded shops with other fans that loved what you loved, intermingling with knowledgeable, enthusiastic salespeople (who usually were fans themselves).  But searching online or in person is still searching (and think how easy it has become to sample the first few pages of a potential book buy or how convenient to hear sound samples of new albums, privately, online).

The bottom line is this.  The way people read and listen to music today has changed, so the manner in which we browse, sample and buy has also changed.  As electronic gadgets such as the iPod, iPad, Smartphone and other devices steal shelf space formerly devoted to books and CDs, shopping online has become more and more important and, dare I say, necessary.

For instance my friend Paul Krueger does not own a computer, and by the time he gave up trying to find the newly released Blu-ray of THE EGYPTIAN in brick and mortal stores, the movie was out of print (it was limited to 3,000 copies).  For those of us who shop the Internet (and especially with their PRIME shipping and free download of DVDs), we can buy literally any movie, magazine or book that is in print, no matter how small its niche market or limited edition it may be.  EVERYTHING out there, even self-published or home garage record label releases, can be purchased, and most at very affordable, discounted prices.

Right now The Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-ray movies are 50% off list price at Barnes & Noble.  Of course I can drive to the nearest one, fight the traffic, spend the gas and walk a long distance to perhaps find that the movie I wanted to buy was not carried at this particular store or simply sold out.  Or I can access Barnes & Noble online, search out any movie I want to buy, even the ones that are temporarily out of stock, and have them delivered to my home at the 50% discount.

Perhaps I am getting old, but the convenience and sampling of unlimited titles is more and more appealing.  The fact that books and music are always sale priced and I never buy any book or CD/music download at list price is also very appealing.  And with Prime I pay $80 a year but get most everything shipped guaranteed second day shipping.  I can’t do better than that!  I make that $80 back by the third month and then ride the free wave the remainder of the year.

I always hated going to Best Buy on the Tuesday that a new DVD was released.  The major blockbuster titles were always there.  But sometimes when an older release came out, a so-called classic, the salesperson would check the shelf and say, wait, we may have copies “in back.”  Most times he would return empty-handed and state, sorry, it will most likely be on the truck Thursday, if not, it will definitely be here next week, or guaranteed the following week.  And of course I was expected to constantly be driving back to see if the film that should now be in my sweaty hands had arrived.  Of course the store only ordered 5 copies at most, so unless I got there early upon arrival, that title might sell out for good. Why waste time and energy!! I order the movie from my computer today and have it in my anxious hands in two days (or one day if I am lucky, which frequently occurs).

I admit I am sad when brick and mortal shops close.  I have fond memories of going to my favorite book and record shops over the years, and often I remember buying a specific Bob Dylan album at a specific store at a special time of the year.  But I also mourned the passing of the milkman delivering milk and juice to the front door.  I mourned the loss of going to the soda shop to buy freshly made sodas and milkshakes.  I mourned the loss of deejay-controlled radio stations. I mourned the passing of those fresh produce carts pulled by horses in the city where salesmen (here in Baltimore they were called “Arabbers” with an accent on the “A”) would yell out their stock and trade as they crept down the block.  And yes, I mourned the loss of the neighborhood ice cream man whose jingle-jangle merry melodies would beckon all the kids in the neighborhood outside on a warm summer night.  I mourned and continue to mourn all of that.  But change is inevitable and sometimes even for the best.

Anyway we look at it, we can still buy ice cream, milk, produce, books, magazines and music.  We just have to adapt to new ways of purchasing the old familiar.  And I won’t even talk about reading books on my Kindle or walking Buddy down the street listening to music on my iPod Classic.  That’s a story for another time.

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