Book chains Borders and Angus & Robertson have gone bust only a day after the Borders company in the US also collapsed. The failure of Borders here isn’t linked to the woes facing its namesake in America - they are owned by different corporations. So have these book stores gone under because people were buying cheaper books online, or are we reading less?
In my case, my dollars weren’t being spent at Borders because my reading had come to a halt. I feel quite ashamed that I have stopped reading. I used to love it, especially in primary school. I’d go through a book every two weeks. I loved classic literature like The Baby-sitters Club Junior and Sweet Valley High.
I used to read for an hour or so every night before sleep. But lately, that seems to have been replaced by trawling through pages of Internet news, blogs, tweets, status updates and magazines... not a book in sight. (Apart from my diary, to organise more social events to distract me from my reading duties).
With my knee being under repair after a severe mishap on a bouncy castle, I decided to take the opportunity to start reading again and get involved in a bit of fiction. Maybe we need it now more than ever, as we fall deeper into the voyeuristic hole of the Internet.
It had been such a long time since I’d been deeply involved in a book, I wasn’t sure what I liked anymore. The last book I bought was at the airport. It was Russell Brand’s autobiography, My Booky Wook. It was basically like reading an OK magazine, all gossipy and stating every single sexual conquest, so not hugely inspiring.
So my mission was to take up real reading again. Like any Gen-Y, I do enjoy having possessions, and I’m quite proud of the small, slightly slanted Ikea bookcase which has been filling up with my hubby’s books. But they do just collect dust, and I have never re-read a book, in true gen-y style. Why would I want to read something again if I already know the ending?
With the prospect of my local Borders store closing down, I thought it was about time I headed back to the library. My first task was to sign up to the library. There were a few things that I wanted to find out, like how the fines compared to my DVD store. Because at the moment I’m going through massive amounts of TV series, and the fines have been through the roof. Also, I have some library book fines from my uni days which are about 8 years overdue. The debt collector stopped calling about them a few years ago, but would my name be on some national “don’t let this bad borrower join the library ever again” list?
I jumped on the library’s website to find what I needed to join up, and you wouldn’t believe it, you can join a library online. You fill out a little form and then they send the card out to you. So 2011! My well-read friends pointed me in the right direction with a few titles which they thought would get my reading juices salivating again. With my list in hand, off I hobbled.
I went straight up to the librarian and asked her how I worked this system. She was young and helpful. Both of these things I didn’t expect. I asked her why she made the career choice to become a librarian and she said, “It was for all the perks.”
I work in the media and to me a perk is a free dinner or free tickets to see an amazing band. It took me a while to work out what she was talking about. Free photocopier use? The daily pleasure of cleaning wee stains from the carpet in the children's section? Lessons from the head librarian in how to turn guys on by taking her glasses off and throwing her hair back like in the movies? Then I realised she was simply talking about the mass amounts of books at her disposal, which only whet my appetite more.
Lucy the lovely librarian pointed me in the direction of the computers to begin my wiz bang search. Maybe I raised the bar of my expectations too high, because the new releases that I was hoping for had already been taken out by someone else. There was a waiting list, but I wasn’t about to wait, I was about to be on a reading roll. So I crossed the street and headed for Borders. It felt like cheating on your boyfriend with a wanker bloke but who is still really attractive.
But Borders and other gigantic book stores won’t be an option for much longer. I reckon it’s just a sign of the times, but reading is not a passing craze – it’s just the way in which we are doing it that’s changing. The sale of E-books is on the rise, with Amazon.com selling $135 million worth of e-books in 2009, and now in 2011 facing more e-book competition from Apple and Google.
I don’t think it’s surprising at all that people are going after the cheap books. We do it with all other products. Most book sales are now presumed to be flowing towards Amazon in the United States and the UK's Book Depository website, with both offering free postage to Australia.
But it is not just the internet that is killing bookstores. Big W, Target and Kmart are another part of the story. These days the big discount department stores sell about one-third of the books sold in this country. Because they buy in bulk, they can sell them onto the consumer at prices far lower than any independent bookseller could ever hope to.
People are saying that it’s a sad day for the printing industry, but I don’t think so. Readers will have choices; to join their local library, spend a bit extra and buy books from their local book store, where they get to browse around and have a coffee and enjoy the space that is a book store. Or order their books online. So have no fear. The book is here to stay. I think we just need to take the time out to sit down and get lost in one.
I’ve done my bit. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to Russell Brand’s Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal.