... a little heart breaks.
A few weeks ago, the enormous (and much loved) Borders bookstore in Brisbane's CBD closed (hopefully they put a Zara in its place...!). Today it has been announced that 42 Angus & Robertson stores across Australia will be closed within 4 weeks.
There is no doubt that we're gripped in difficult financial times. There is also no doubt that Australian bookstores are being threatened by online retailers who ship for free and sell books at at least half the price we are forced to pay here in Oz. Booksellers more generally are also facing endangered species listing by the rapid advance of Kindle and iPad/iPhone apps that bring a virtual bookshelf to your palm. I was given a Kindle for my birthday... I feel like a traitor as I adore the look and feel of books, but the Kindle makes so much sense - particularly for travel. How much of a pain is it to lug a Lonely Planet around with you on big trips? The Kindle eliminates the bulk, and is actually more functional - you can lend books, bookmark pages, highlight sections. Incredible! I'll also be downloading a Spanish dictionary in preparation for Spanish classes... Exciting!
All of that said, I think the boutique bookseller is going to survive this tough retail environment. Boutique booksellers stock not only the stock-standard books, and not only do they open your mind to a million new books - which are generally so beautiful that you must have it immediately! - they also offer an experience. And I think "experience" shopping is where retail is headed in the imminent future (in fact, I think there's a good chance we're already there). Book sellers these days go beyond just the attached coffee shop (nothing stimulates book buying than the smell of beans roasting!) to activities - book clubs, walking tours of West End (yep, Avid Reader is doing them now!) - and of course just the general awesomeness of being in a bookstore that just reeks of cool. They really are great places to be. It is my ultimate place for meeting a man. (Although I've never actually met a man in one - more like, it is my ultimate day dream place for meeting a man). Furthermore, much as I love the Book Depository, it can take a fair while to ship. So there is hope, of course, for the book selling industry.
While I don't believe bookstores will die, I think the chains will continue to suffer, and are likely to survive only if they can drive down the price of books in Australia and become primarily online retailers with a few flagship stores (most likely located in suburban shopping centres).
Jennifer Egan. Pulitzer Prize winning, on Oprah's book list... It's awesome. The New York Times Book Review describes Egan as such: "Egan possesses a satirist's eye and a romance novelist's heart." And it's true. It is just so good! I can be seen stifling laughs, shaking my head in wonderment or shock, and tearing through the pages each morning on the bus. I think you guys would like it.
And in more book news, a 25 year old (Jean Kwok) just won the Orange Prize for her new novel, Girl In Translation. I'm hoping it's more uplifting than the last Orange Prize winning book I read (We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver).
One more incredible looking bookstore to salivate over: