Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bargain Hunting on the Internet

My husband pointed out to me this piece from Sunday's New York Times by David Streitfeld about the demise of traditional bookstores--new and secondhand--in the Internet age. Because books can be purchased extremely cheaply (in some cases) from online sellers, most of whom are individuals who are seeking to unload books they no longer want or need, there is less demand for bricks-and-mortar stores. The article points to a number of venerable establishments that have closed recently, including Olsson's (Washington), Robin's (Philadelphia), Cody's (Berkeley), and stores that are on the ropes, including the Border's chain and Powell's (Oregon). There are ominous signs from publishers as well. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is no longer accepting new manuscripts, "a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat." And Simon & Schuster laid off staff in December. There is an additional dimension to this troubling situation. When books are sold by the "worldwide network of amateurs," authors and publishers get no revenues whatsoever. Steitfeld concludes that "no industry undermined by its greatest partisans will thrive long. CD sales plunged after music could be downloaded. Newspapers are hurting even as their readership is mushrooming online. ...traditional bookstores will continue to fade." Streitfeld doesn't address the issue of the e-book (see my previous post below), but if it takes off, the e-book could put further stress on a fragile industry.

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