With all the talk about e-books and bookstores closing, I find it refreshing to hear the bookstore in my small town was voted one of the top ten bookstores in North America, by the Globe and Mail (link here). What makes it so refreshing? It’s an independently owned, book nook. A small store in an old building. But that is what makes it so appealing.
Books themselves, have always had an air of mystery, of history, of adventure waiting around the next page. Well at least to me. There is something heady about holding a tome of stories. Maybe it’s the printer’s ink affecting my brain, making me high on print. Or maybe it’s my own imagination, running rampant like a painter high of caffeine standing before a blank canvas, hand twitching in anticipation.
That alone draws me to bookstores and the reverent hush of libraries, but add old architecture with floorboards that creak history, crown moldings that could tell stories witnessed from their lofty perch or just the smell, and I’m chomping at the bit.
Now add a proprietor, Shelley MacBeth, that works tirelessly with her neighbouring independents, food store, clothing store etc., to draw people to the main street and I think Chapters, Barnes and Noble or even the big box store could learn a thing or two.
Atmosphere, that’s what it is all about. Not the dollar. Atmosphere is worth the little bit extra that these store may have to charge because they don’t buy in bulk, they buy in carefully planned and thoughtfully placed merchandise. Oh and the most important commodity? Customer service, something the big box stores accountants feel costs too much.
So congratulations go to Shelley and her staff at Blue Heron books.
What’s that? You seen this before, so where am I going with all this back slapping? Glad you asked.
With the decline in human interaction due to the ease of online shopping, what would it take to get you or if not you, people you know back into the bookstore? What is it that is missing that keeps people buying books online (and I’m not saying online purchases are bad). What is it that keeps them out of libraries (like Zephyr’s, that will be closing its doors because Uxbridge township feels it doesn’t make enough money)?
A writer friend of mine, Tobin Elliott, actually sparked the idea for this blog post with his own about piracy (read it by clicking here). Like him, quite often I will be inspired to buy a book by reading it online through Google Books or hearing about it through blogs. Same can be said about music or movies. My daughters and wife are big I-Tunes users. I have purchased the odd song from them as well, due to an inability to find said song elsewhere. From that, or watching a movie or TV show via Netflix or similar clones, I will be inspired to purchase the actual CD or DVD/Blueray.
So while it is easy to find what you need online, you have to know what you are looking for. Here enters the bookstore or the music store or even the video rental store. Places where you can walk the aisles and be intrigued by the covers looking back at you. You can hear a song playing in the background that catches your ear or, as is the case with Blue Heron and most small businesses, you can talk to someone with a passion for the material on the shelves. Someone that could recommend books/music/movies to you. Someone that can steer you to something different and that understands everyone’s taste is different.
THAT, my friends, is what keeps me going back. A veritable tackle box of lures that draws me in.
Besides having the actual book at my disposal, the tactile contact is reassuring, a grounding in this plane. I think therein lies the rub. I find books real whereas e-books or I-tunes music or even Netflix, feels temporary to me. I’m not saying to give up on them, but I prefer a good old-fashioned hardcover book. Then again, maybe I’m just showing my age.
What is it for you? Do you prefer bookstores over electronic venues? If not, what would it take to get you back into the store/libraries? If so, what keeps you going back and what would you like to see added to draw more people in?
Sound off. I’d like to hear from both camps.