Sunday's Editorial

What's in store for bookstores?

Record players and bookstores have a lot in common, if you think about it.

OK, so maybe we’re stretching things a bit, but our thoughts this week have centered around books. Well, not so much books – and their digitized competition – but bookstores.

Newnan recently lost one of its major consumer icons, Scott’s Book Store. After more than three decades of business, Earlene Scott decided to call it quits and spend more time in her garden. It’s a happy story. 

Many other closings have not been so pleasant, in large part because of a struggling economy. Information varies, but according to Open Education Database, there’s been a 12 percent drop in bookstores since 1997. And the number continues to drop, slowly but surely. Among the casualties is mega-chain Borders, which liquidated its assets in 2011.

Only a few years ago, Coweta County could boast of a long list of bookstores, ranging in specialty from Christian to used books, in size from national chain to mom-and-pop shop. Needed the latest bestseller? Check. Looking for a hard-to-find, rare first edition? Check. A signed cookbook from Food Network’s latest so-and-so? Check. Comparative study on world religions or Bible translations? We had that covered, too.

But no longer.

One major bookseller remains in Coweta, and the struggle for survival is not the same anymore. The era of big chain vs. mom-and-pop stores, of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan duking it out for business in “You’ve Got Mail,” is over. Now bookstores of every shape and size are in the same fight for their lives, together.

When digital books first arrived on the scene, many thought they were the harbinger of doom for printed books. Despite that prediction – and depending on your Internet search – as many or more books are being published today than during the turn of the century, thanks in large part to small, independent publishing firms.

It’s not rocket science. The consensus culprit is online retailers.

During a poetry reading at a small, used bookstore in nearby Auburn, Ala., recently, we overheard a mother say to her daughter, “Put the book back on the shelf. We can get it cheaper on Amazon.”

How many of us have uttered the same phrase? The sad truth is, it’s easy to find the latest Nicholas Sparks or Bella Andrea – digital or print edition – online at a significantly lower price than we could find on the shelf of our local bookstore.

As bookstores continue to decline, we wonder: What happens if laws change, requiring online merchants to charge sales tax? The U.S. Senate is certainly moving things in that direction. What effects could the perpetual economic struggles of the U.S. Postal Service have on shipping rates and online sales? It might not be as easy to find that bargain if regulators attempt to level the playing field.

If those or other factors cause a consumer shift away from online purchasing, where will we all turn for our reading materials when so many booksellers are closing up shop?

We may be going out on a limb in predicting our doomsday scenario, but hey – some people stockpile canned food and bottled water in their basements ... just in case. And Cowetans used to have access to a dozen bookstores if you didn’t mind quick jaunts across the county line.

Now, hold on – take your finger off the panic button and let’s talk record players.

More than 30 years ago, the first compact disc player was released to the public. Audiophiles began packing away their records and sallying forth into the digital age. It was a new beginning that signaled the end of vinyl … or so we thought.

Spin forward and today’s headlines shout: “Vinyl’s sonic perfection finds new fans in digital age!” and “Music lovers’ passion keeps vinyl spinning!” Turntables have returned in a big way.

Record stores are popping up, musicians are releasing new material on vinyl and a whole new generation is enthralled with the scratchy, authentic sound of a needle dropping into a groove. The resurgence of records gives us hope that the next chapter for bookstores – both large and small – will include a similar comeback.

This time, maybe we won’t have to wait 30 years for a revival.

In the meantime, if you still know of a local bookstore to support, perhaps give your keyboard a rest and let your fingers hover over the spine of the next great thriller in person.

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