Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Book Shop, RIP

Embiggen Books at TAMOzI finally paid a visit to Embiggen Books, a new book shop to open in Melbourne with the aim of catering for the science oriented reader and the skeptic in particular. Oddly enough, Stephen Fry paid the shop a visit that same day; it must have been in the air. I don't know about Fry, but I fell in love: the shop is small in comparison to those Borders aircraft hangars of yesteryear, but it was as if someone designed a book shop with me in mind: one wall features works of fiction with science fiction having a significant presence, another wall features philosophy (but not pseudoscience junk), another is comprised of popular science, etc. There is even ample room dedicated for children books made of books I would love my son to get into.
I do not recall being at a book shop where that “wow, I should definitely read this book” notion sprang up at such a frequency and with such variety of genres.
That’s all great, but did I buy anything? No, I didn’t. I simply do not see the point in buying paper books anymore, now that I have been so thoroughly exposed to the charms of the ebook. It’s similar to asking me to take a ride on a steam train: it might appeal to me once as an attraction, but the reality is that it can’t keep up with modern trains and it’s stinky as hell. There are exceptions to the rule, like books heavy on the graphics or children books, but reality knocks on the door yet again: price wise, a small book shop cannot compete with what the Internet has to offer (as summarized so exquisitely by websites like booko). Even if/when Embiggen offers ebooks, and they told me they would do so in six months, there is no way they'd be able to match Amazon's might.
The way I see it, the book shop has a couple of potential aces up its sleeve. There is that nice feeling of brushing with the books that one cannot get on the web, although preview services like the one offered by Amazon come pretty close. Then there is the book shop acting as a gathering point for people of mutual interests, a line Embiggen is definitely active at through the organization of various gatherings and "meet the author" events. Can Embiggen generate income out of such gatherings in the face of declining book sales, currently its main income stream? I doubt it.
And if a book shop as good as Embiggen is living on borrowed time, then it is clear the entire book shop institution is an endangered species.

Image by podblackcat (whose blog and other web presences I follow), Creative Commons license

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