Why Bookstores Matter

Mark Coker, chief executive of Smashwords Inc., an e-book company, told the The Wall Street Journal that when the physical space on the shelves of bookstores disappears, “it’s gone forever.” He added: “If you remove books from our towns and villages and malls, there will be less opportunity for the serendipitous discovery of books. And that will make it tougher to sell books.”

However, Mike Shatzkin thinks the handwriting is already on the wall — “Book stores are going away.” Al Mohler says, “He [Mike Shatzkin] may be right, but I hold out hope that he is not. If he is, it is far more than bookstores that we will lose.”

Read the entire article here.

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3 Responses to “Why Bookstores Matter”

  1. Not sure I agree with Mohler. He writes,

    “The physicality of the book is important to the experience of the book itself. The arrangement and order of the words is supreme, but the appearance of the book and the feel of the book in the hand are also part of the reading experience.”

    That may true today, but I don’t think it’s a necessity, as if arranging text on rectangular pieces of paper that have been bound together into a stack is essential for literary communication. Additionally, reading an e-book still requires one to physically interact with an object. The words of the e-book are not fed directly to the brain (at least, not yet), but are rather communicated through a physical medium – the “reader” (whether it be a Kindle, iPad, or laptop).

    Mohler writes,

    “Furthermore, the experience of handling the book is revealing in other important ways. The cover and front matter of books tell us something. We are informed by the “blurbs” on the cover and by the reputation of the publisher. We can open the book and thumb through its pages, checking the table of contents, the index, the preface, and the dedication.”

    E-books still have covers, blurbs, and publishers. The role and form of these elements may change, but they won’t necessarily disappear.

    “Being in a bookstore helps me to think. I find that my mind makes connections between authors and books and ideas as I walk along the shelves and look at the tables. When I get a case of writer’s block, I head for a bookstore. The experience of walking among the books is curative.”

    I’m sure that this is true for Mohler, and many others for that matter. But I don’t think that a physical bookstore full of physical books is the only setting in which ideas can and will flourish and be exchanged. The rise of computers and the internet has had an incalculable impact on the exchange of ideas and collaboration. I think the argument that the loss of the bookstore and the physical book will ultimately diminish this exchange is unfounded.

    I’d be the first to admit that I love bookstores. I could spend all day in them. But, that love, and even a perceived “need”, for them is probably due more to my past experiences and familiarities than to any true superiority in the physical book.

    My two cents…

    • kevinwilkening Says:

      Let me add, that while I do not agree with all that Mohler contends, I think he does have some valid points. We are always affirming and resisting.

      Therefore, I affirm some of your contentions, but I need to resist others. I affirm your contention that “reading an e-book still requires one to physically interact with an object. The words of the e-book are not fed directly to the brain (at least, not yet), but are rather communicated through a physical medium – the ‘reader’ (whether it be a Kindle, iPad, or laptop).” But I need to resist the idea that this happens in the same way.

      Here is something to think about … There is a large and looming question today as to whether “digital readers” cause us to read words, or to view images. Some “digital readers” are considering making paragraphs only as large as an iphone screen so that the person reading can capture a screen image with their eyes; much like we would do with a painting. Accept this image is comprised of words instead of paint.

      If it is true that reading on Kindle, Nook, or iPad (which I am hoping to purchase as soon an iPad 2 comes out), is more like looking at images and less like reading words … and if we break paragraphs early to fit our intake of images … then there will be a world of difference between books and “digital readers.” Especially when we consider poetry, and certain forms of prose; specifically Scripture and its varied genres. If we can no longer distinguish the genre of literature that we are reading because we want it to fit neatly on a 4″, 7″ or 9″ screen, then we might someday conclude that “arranging text on rectangular pieces of paper that have been bound together into a stack is essential for literary communication.

      Then again, what do I know? I am probably the person who would have contended that we retain the scroll! LOL!

  2. right on right on right on…. viva la bibliotheque!!

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