Albert Mohler’s comments on the demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores begins,

“Book stores are going away.” That is the conclusion reached by Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of Idea Logical Co., a consulting firm based in New York. Shatzkin offered his ominous prediction to The Wall Street Journal as that paper was reporting on the expected bankruptcy filing by Borders, one of the nation’s largest book store chains.... Shatzkin offers a blunt assessment of the future: “I think that there will be a 50% reduction in bricks-and-mortar shelf space for books within five years, and 90% within 10 years.”,

[From AlbertMohler.com – The Marketplace of Ideas — Why Bookstores Matter]

Mohler does an especially good job of explaining what physical bookstores do for us:

For the last two centuries and more, bookstores and bookstalls have been centers for the dissemination of culture and ideas. The merging of the bookstore and the coffee shop brought two complementary cultural spaces together. Books are about ideas, and bookstores offer a rare context for meeting other people interested in ideas.

Being in a bookstore helps me to think. I find that my mind makes connections between authors and books and ideas as I walk along the shelves and look at the tables. When I get a case of writer’s block, I head for a bookstore. The experience of walking among the books is curative.

I learn a great deal just by being in a good bookstore — and often even in a bad one. I have learned much by visiting a Maoist bookstore in Berkeley, Jewish bookstores in Brooklyn, the old Communist Party bookstore in central London, Muslim bookstores in Berlin, and the eccentric book shops of the Left Bank in Paris. I know cities by their bookstores. To visit Oxford, England without a trip to Blackwell’s is unforgivable — as is a visit to Oxford, Mississippi without a visit to Square Books.

Call me optimistic—call me naïve if you will—but I cannot believe that bookstores are going the way of tack shops and livery stables. There has to be some kind of viable commercial value proposition in the kind of experiences Mohler describes here. It may look different than what we’re used to, but then, thirty-five years ago, who knew that bookstore/coffee shops would pop up in almost every shopping mall?

The alternative, should physical bookstores go extinct, would be a continued fragmentation of exposure; a limiting of our awareness of the rest of the world. When I shop Amazon.com, I do not walk past the feminist studies aisle on my way to the John Piper book I came for. There are no New Age titles on the screen next to Christian theology. Amazon.com helpfully informs us “People who bought this book also bought....” It never tell us,”If you really want to think that topic through, you might also want to read these contrary perspectives.” You could wander in and out of there all week and hardly even realize there are contrary perspectives.

What do you think? Is there a future for physical book stores? If so, then in what form? Will there be another new concept melded with book sales, as coffee shops were in the past few decades? Will book stores become more elitist? More regional (and possibly even larger? Will they morph into some other new form? Or will they just disappear?

Articles by Tom Gilson

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