We dropped by a Borders this weekend. Everything! Must! Go! It’s early, so the best deals are yet to come — most likely on the worst merchandise. It was nice to see a bookstore teeming with eager customers; it’s just too bad that it takes a liquidation sale for that to happen.
Not long after Borders announced their farewell tour — apparently, they’re so undesirable they couldn’t even get a single buyout bid — the graduation goggles were donned and the eulogies were spat out in Tweet-sized soundbites:
“Oh, Borders! We’re so sad to see you go! RIP! #thankUBorders”
Ahem. Never-mind that we used to be sad to see stores like Borders driving out the smaller “Mom and Pop” bookstores. “THERE’S NO LIFE IN THESE MONSTROSITIES!” (We shopped there anyway. The selection and prices drew us in.)
Perhaps Borders is now — on its deathbed, mind you — allowed into the cool kids club (reading is cool, right?) because a new, even more damnable enemy is at hand:
The dreaded ebook!
As an ebook lending site, we often get an earful from those who just can’t quite come to terms with the rising popularity of digital books. It is, to put it mildly, eye-rollingly boorish behavior, and it’s the same basic sentiment that lamented the rise of photography, the advent of the printing press, and the growing popularity of the personal computer.
It’s the argument that going to lose.
The shockingly speedy demise of an outlet as big as Borders is a sign of things to come: In with the new, out with the old. Or, more likely, the old will live on, as the new gains slow, but inevitable, prominence.
The real problem isn’t that we’re moving on, it’s that no one will have learned the obvious (and recent) lessons from all the other times we’ve moved on: Fighting is only going to make things worse.
Print books aren’t going away. Libraries aren’t going away. The publishing industry isn’t in any real danger, beyond the self-inflicted wounds of short-sightedness.
Just as the music industry weathered the digital storm, so too will the publishing industry.
Will someone step up to embrace the digital future, or will we spend the next ten years as pawns in a losing battle against piracy? Indeed, will “piracy” be a convenient bogey-man, an overstated threat, used to buy time? Will customers be harassed in the name of the bottom line? Will publishers cite the demise of Borders as an excuse to tighten control and raise prices, spurred-on by traditionalists who want to avoid change, all at the expense of meaningful progress?
The smell of a book? The feel of a book in your hands? Meh.
Let’s be real: Consumers want access above all else. Access to the content they want to read, and they don’t give a shit if it’s somehow encumbered with DRM so long as these digital controls don’t get in the way of reading; so long as a frightened industry doesn’t over-reach, as frightened industries so often do.
Digital is an opportunity. It is not, in and of itself, better. It can be better. There’s a chance that this could be done right.
Here’s hoping the bores and the old guard don’t screw it up for everyone else — but they probably will, for far longer than necessary.