“good riddance” to brick-and-mortar bookstores?

The following piece is the unedited piece published on Woroni.


Last Saturday, I found myself in the Borders store in Canberra Centre, browsing through the heavily discounted books. There were signs everywhere in the store, advertising the following “Administrators sale, everything on sale must go, all sales final, no returns”. Almost everything in the store, including the fixtures but excluding the posters, is on sale.

The administrators of parent company RedGroup Retail, who had already closed 17 Borders stores since taking control of the business in February, recently announced they would close the nine remaining stores (which include the store in Canberra Centre) in Australia by 17 July. At its peak, Australia had 26 Borders Stores. With the closures of the Angus & Robertson and Borders bookstores in Canberra Centre, we are pretty much left with Dymocks and The Smiths Alternative bookstore in Civic.

As a kid, I remembered the trips to the bookstores, spending hours in the stores flipping through books after books, pages after pages. Those trips to the bookstores have somewhat cultivated my lifelong interest in reading, with books by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl lining up my bookshelves when I was younger. While those books have since been tucked away, they remain my priced possessions. As an adult, browsing in bookstores remains one of my favourite things to do, arguably one of life’s sublime pleasures, which I am sure many would agree.

These days, the likes of the Kindle, iPad, other Ebook readers (e-readers), and Ebooks seem to have taken over the world of reading, and found its way into lecture theatres. A few years ago, it was novel to have students with laptops in lecture theatres. Today, it is increasingly common to find students scrolling through their lecture notes on their iPads or e-readers.  For the cost-conscious consumer, Ebooks have become a popular option, often much cheaper than physical books. For example, Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” generally has a list price of USD 16 and is currently discounted at USD 9.69. The Kindle’s edition is going for an even cheaper USD 8.32. Judging by the increasing number of Ebooks available, prices of Ebooks are definitely coming down over time. While elementary kids’ books generally aren’t available on e-readers yet, young adult books often are. Besides, it’s certainly unimaginable reading a “board book”, often one that requires the sense of “touch”, to a toddler on an e-reader. While unimaginable, it certainly isn’t impossible. In fact, reading a “board book” on an e-reader has been made possible by Barnes & Noble, which offer a range of “Read to me” Ebooks under their “Nook Book” range for the young readers. Besides, apart from Ebooks, much cheaper online options have also been made available to consumers these days. Book lovers would know what I am talking about. Books sold on The Book Depository and Amazon are often considerably cheaper than the ones sold in bookstores.

With the rising popularity of Ebooks over physical books, and online bookstores, it isn’t entirely unthinkable to see the brick-and-mortar bookstores nearing the end of its life-cycle. Are we bidding “good riddance” to the traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores? Yet, as I entertain that possibility, I find it hard to imagine the day when my kids ask me “What’s a bookstore?”