These comically grim predictions weren’t so different from those given at a reading/panel I went to on Sunday at The Mysterious Bookshop (which is a really cute bookshop in downtown Manhattan that focuses on mystery and suspense novels). The reading portion of the event was by Vincent McCaffrey, who was promoting his new novel, Hound. The main character of the book is a book-lover of yore who has become highly skeptical of the future of books. Timely indeed.
During the panel discussion, called “The Future of Bookselling,” but could have just as easily been named “Curmudgeony Old People vs. Idealistic Youth,” I saw that Vincent, a former bookseller, must have modeled his main character very much after himself. As intelligent as I found him, I must say, I did not agree with hardly anything he said. It was as if the invention of e-books were a personal betrayal, and the thing is, I know that other people probably feel this way too. Still, it’s hard not to write someone off as outdated or (at best) sentimental, when he begins a discussion, led by the fabulous Stephanie Anderson of WORD Bookstore, with this question: Will books even exist in the future? – cue La Bamba chanting, in the year 2000… in the year 2000…
Luckily the two younger booksellers, Jessica Stockton, who just opened Greenlight Bookstore, and Christine Onorati, who owns WORD, answered Vincent’s question with a resounding YES! As an optimistic youth, I was reassured, but also disgusted that his question was even posed in the first place. What you do you all think? If e-books take over physical books completely (which, by the way, won’t be in any our lifetimes anyway), does that make them not books? I still like buying CDs, but if I download all of the same songs off of iTunes, I wouldn’t say I haven’t bought the album.
The panel continued to discuss independent book-selling. Living in New York, as I imagine in many places on either coast, it’s sometimes easy to forget that most people might have access to a Barnes and Noble (physical access, that is), but may not have an independent bookstore. Still, and remember that I’m one of the idealist youth, I’m not convinced that other parts of the country wouldn’t support indies, so where are they? One panelist brought up a good point that many people like the idea of independent stores, but their economy simply can’t support them, so they end up going to Wal-Mart or B&N. Non-coasters out there, if you exist, please give me your thoughts or let me know what your favorite independent bookstore is.
The older booksellers remained convinced that indies just won’t make it in our crazy technological world. Now that B&N has an e-reader, there’s no stopping them on all fronts. But, the young remain hopeful and as Jessica from Greenlight noted, booksellers are going to start seeing many different methods of bookselling and publishing. What’s important in order to stay relevant is to cater to as many outlets as possible until there is something resembling an industry standard.
In other words, prepare for chaos. Because it’s Y2K all over again.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect them to have the answers because it’s impossible to know how to deal with something that hasn’t happened yet. The important thing is that they are thinking ahead even if they can’t actually plan ahead yet.
I don’t pretend to know any answers either, but I do know that the end won’t be nigh if we just prepare for the change to come. And I can’t wait for the day when, after spending countless nights in our bunkers with duct tape and bottled water, awaiting impending disaster, we wake up and realize we’re all still alive – and more importantly, so are books.