Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Commentary - The Decline of the Used Bookstore

Its a sad fact that with the rise of the internet, certain businesses have been irreversibly impacted for the worse. This is certainly true of the legendary Used Bookstore, once a consistent part of Small-town American culture and now a dwindling ghost of the past. The current generation of consumer is accustomed to doing his treasure hunting online with the understanding that anything can be found, bought, and delivered without him even taking a step out of his home. Interaction with store personnel is not required, merely a guarantee that payment will be secure and swift and the product sold is as advertised. And so the lowly bookstore owner finds himself without a customer base to cater to, and thus no income to support his enterprise.

Some bookstores have adapted by converting to a total online business. With the advent of Amazon as one of the world's premiere book and now general goods merchants, and the development of their Marketplace, the ordinary person now has the tools at hand to sell his belongings with easy and profit. Since the used book market was always meant for collectors and bargain hunters, the connection to the Amazon network or other sites for used treasures provides a connection already targeted to that demographic group, expanded far beyond the vendor's immediate locality. Other stores have moved to a hybrid model, offering a large online selection and a smaller on-site variety. These physical stores mostly servive based on the revenue from online sales and customer loyalty. Then there's the novelty stores, the ones that specialize in a particular type or genre of book, such as the used bookstore in downtown Annapolis. These usually have such a history of being the authority in a certain area that people patronize them more for the expertise than for treasure hunting.

But it seems that the days when you could wander into an actual shop with shelves stuffed to bursting with old books and smell that dusty book smell are fading fast. And for those of us who love the experience of actually going someplace to do our seeking, that is a sad thing indeed.

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