First they came for the record stores,
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t sing and make albums.
Then they came for the newspapers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a journalist.
Then they came for the video stores,
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t make movies and release DVDs.
Then they came for the bookstores
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
– (with all apologies to Martin Niemöller)
I live in a world without video stores. I was thinking about that this morning.
I mean, it’s not literally true — I do see the occasional Hollywood Video or Blockbuster still hanging on in out-of-the way strip malls like lonely ghosts, usually with forlorn “Clearance Sale” signs in their windows. I usually kind of just — look away, the way you might if you saw someone you used to know holding a cardboard sign asking for spare change.
But it is effectively true. The video stores are gone. They’re definitely gone from my social landscape, at least. I used to go to video stores with my friends, half-a-dozen of us or more at a time, browsing the shelves and laughing and bringing each other the things we found — “Oh my God, have you seen this? We have to get this.” We’d make serendipitous finds, movies we never would have heard of if we hadn’t just randomly tripped across them — like the night we watched “Revengers Tragedy,” which had somehow been misfiled in the horror section. We’d talk to strangers sometimes about movies they’d seen and loved, trade recommendations.
We still watch movies, me and my friends. We watch DVDs from Netflix, or watch something they have on Instant Streaming. Other nights, as a desperate measure of last resort, we might pick one of the handful of recent releases available in a Redbox machine.
And you know what? It’s just not as much fun.
Now, we do, thank heavens, still have what is arguably the world’s best video store right here in Seattle, Scarecrow Video, with its nearly 100,000 films. I do still go there with my friends, although not as often as I might like. Most movie nights, convenience wins out.
I miss video stores. I do worry, sometimes, that someday I’m going to miss bookstores the same way.
A lot of people will try to tell you that the publishing industry can’t take lessons from the movie industry, or the music industry, because people don’t consume books the same way they consume songs and films. To them I would say — do not fucking kid yourselves. The point, here, is that all of those industries have been turned upside-down and inside-out by the immediate gratification factor of electronic delivery. The exact same thing is happening to publishing. The Kindle is as disruptive as the iPod was, Amazon just as disruptive as Netflix. We might not be able to employ exactly the same strategies that those industries have to try to survive, but now that we’ve seen their houses get blown down, we’d damn well better strap ourselves down and prepare for the storm. Because everything that’s happened so far is just the first few raindrops from the downpour that’s coming.
I do believe that the independent, passionate bookstores will still survive. For example, I feel sure that Powell’s Books down in Portland will survive, one way or another, just as independent video stores like Scarecrow are surviving. Powell’s is somewhere else I go to with my friends sometimes, because we feel like it’s worth the three-hour drive. In a way, I like this world better — a world where the art we love is being sold to us by the people who love it, too, not by big faceless corporate chains who look at all these books and songs and movies as just items on a balance sheet.
The world is my bookstore now. When I’m out with friends, and someone recommends a book to me, I can pull out my phone, order it, and have it automatically and wirelessly sent to my Kindle for me to start reading when I get home. I love that, it’s like magic — accio biblos! — and I wouldn’t give it up.
But I hope the time never comes when I’m fondly and sadly remembering the days when I used to wander around in real bookstores with my friends, saying, “Oh my God, have you read this? You have to get this.”previous post: “Think readers care about fancy prose?” Actually, yes | next post: Three-Sentence Fiction: “Found”