Note: this is from 2009; but I hope you like it.
You know you’re living in the 21st Century when…
The following is taken from a conversation I had during a meeting about creating another literary event in the future. When I spoke about the benefits of having one, I got this response from a friend:
Friend: “ I buy my books online.”
Me: “But wouldn’t you like to meet your favorite author?”
Me: “Because, because….”
Before I knew it, I was cut to the metaphorical knees by my friend, confirming the reasons why it’s a challenge for independent bookstores to stay afloat, the major retail chains are drifting amid financial icebergs and online merchants such as Amazon shouting out loud, “who’s your daddy?”
Ladies and Gentlemen, the era of the online book shopper is upon us.
In some way, I blame this on the Internet for taking the community out of community. In some cases, it’s the 21st Century, get used to it. I don’t blame my friend for telling me the absolute truth in my face. Like millions of other people, they shop for their books online and they’re quite happy with that. I can’t blame this person for doing that. What irks me more than anything is the frustrating fact this country is becoming more and more isolated. I came across an old article in the Washington Post about social isolation in this country with the main reasons for this growing trend are long commutes, the workplace (number of jobs) and our technology. The flip side of that are online social communities like Facebook and MySpace make it easier for individuals to interact with each other.
When it comes to the book world, it’s easy for my friend to buy the latest novel online rather than travel a certain distance to get it. When spend time wasting gas you need when with a few clicks, have that novel delivered to your front door? About the ‘meeting your favorite author part’, this is really going to sting but, why should they? Why should the online shopper go to a book venue when they have the author’s newest book in a series in their hands? It’s tough, but I’m trying to see both sides of the argument here. The sobering facts are: independent bookstores are fading fast; we know this from previous posts here on the blog. Even the major retailers like Borders and Barnes and Noble are treading water right now. How do I know? When you have a Borders inside the Promenade in Santa Monica, an affluent city on the Westside, close its doors…you know its trouble.
As we move deeper in this brave new world, the Internet, the very same Internet you’re reading this entry on, is both a blessing and a curse. For the booksellers, it may wind up being a nightmare based on the attitude of my friend and shared by others across the land. Maybe if economic times were better, this wouldn’t be too much of an issue but truthfully, when we had the surplus back in 2000, the Internet was about six years old and the technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now, fifteen years later. Who knows what will happen when the Internet turns 20? Just because we might return to the days of the surplus, doesn’t mean booksellers independent and major, will be unaffected. The major retail chains already have videos, streaming audios, and other features competing with the Amazons, Googles and other online booksellers threatening their turf. The independent booksellers, which a majority doesn’t have the media described, are barely holding on and their lifeline is greased with oil.
I’m not mad at my online shopper friend, but the reality remains this is the 21st Century and buying books over the Internet is here to stay, which is why more and more writers websites are taking advantage of the technology for their own sakes.
This is the change we’ll have to live with.
Charles L. Chatmon
President, Chatmon’s Books