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« Creation by Intelligent Design (Norman Costa) | Main | Beyraja: from 1947 to 1971 and beyond..(Omar Ali) »

January 02, 2012

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Gobble, gobble, gobble. The invisible internet commerce swallows up real life businesses. Don't forget Netflix and the neighborhood Multiplex which in turn had dealt the lethal blow to the Drive In Cinema of yore and the Bijou art theaters of not so long ago. I am totally torn up by this increasing trend. I hate to see book stores close (even Borders or Barnes & Noble)and yet I buy almost all my books on Amazon.

I hope to weigh in on a related topic in the next few days ... if I can tear myself away from the other junk that occupies my time before the computer.

And don't forget Shakespeare's in Paris. An end to an era. I predict, however, a replacement for the 'book in hand.' Not the Kindle or Nook, mind you. Rather, it's the single use Kindle-Nook equivalent of the throw-away cell phone. It might be "War and Peace." Or, it could be E. A. Poe's collected short stories. Buy it for $6.95, then toss it, or give it to a friend. Eventually, they will wind up in a used book store, like so many used CDs going for $0.35. Or, maybe not.

People who like and need the indie/special interest bookstore experience could pay a subscription to keep them open -- the way we join a museum we may visit infrequently because the idea that it's there really matters. I know a new restaurant in Culver City, the Cafe Livre, that is also a non-lending library for used food books. The menu is French Continental with a North African note. Think how nice! One of the owners is doing her bit to keep book culture alive -- and I suppose to do something to incentivize diners to put away their handhelds...

Norm: I don't think Shakespeare & Co. closed. Rather, the owner himself "closed," for good, all sales final, so to speak.

To my mind, the Kindle/Nook/iPad tablet/e-reader thingums and cell phones generally *are* the equivalent of a throw-away. There is something to your suggestion, though. I can imagine a used bookstore with bins stocked with clunky electronic devices, souped-up versions of singing greeting cards. But there will likely still be books there, too, during our lifetimes. I visited a used record store in Berkeley a couple days ago, a tiny storefront I'd not noticed before: all LPs and 45s, no digital. (Picked up a fun record for two bucks, one of Goose Creek Symphony's LPs.)

Elatia: Your suggestion is too rational. I mean that as a criticism. You are correct that one of the values to me of a special bookstore like Bodhi Tree is that it's there, not that I routinely visit it. But it's not a museum. It's a retail bookstore, employing people who love and understand the works they sell, and whose enthusiasm for those works attracts many more like me, on whose continuing patronage I can rely until I, too, purchase another dozen Banerjee recordings, thereby doing my part. You're asking me to put my money where my mouth is, but that argument taken to its logical conclusion urges me either to assess periodically, and increasingly more frequently, the store's value to me and then decide whether or not to subscribe (This year/month/day, I'm in; next, not so much), or simply to open my own special bookstore, perfectly suited to my tastes.

Besides, the last thing we need is a pervasive subscription business model for retail. The supermarket? Auto repair shop? Cell phone network provider? You want service? Then pay to keep it afloat.

I wish I had more time to spend in Culver City. I was there over Christmas, visiting friends in the Westchester area, and I routinely fly into LAX just to stop at Johnny's on Sepulveda for the pastrami. Please, please don't introduce subscriptions at Johnny's! I pay it already, in the form of airfare, auto rental, and the incrementally ascending prices on the menu.

Dean, successful retail is becoming more "experiential." That is, people go for it if they love it so much, because the experience is so right for them, that an Internet based business cannot topple it. Not sayin' this is good. There are people who need bookstores emotionally, but buy at amazon. Buying at amazon is about money but about other things too, like convenience. For many people, the experiential aspect of a veridical B&N is not greatly preferable to shopping at amazon. When you have a really special bookstore right in your orbit, that can change things. How would you like to keep such stores alive, when it's not just indie book stores that are dropping like flies, but book culture that is disappearing? If a customer base could convert to a membership model, is that "pretend retail" or a recognition of cultural shifts calling for a dedicated response?

Frankly, I've found Amazon almost useless for my ordinary needs. My brother used to send me virtual gift cards on my birthday. Typically, I'd be frustrated trying to spend one, either because I couldn't find what I knew I wanted there, or because nothing in particular that I could find grabbed me in a virtual presentation. But then I have ready access to gazillions of titles in libraries. What do I need with virtual? On the other hand, Amazon at least acknowledges that there are oodles of Nikhil Banerjee recordings, but then you have to sort out the mp3 downloads from the disks.

If book culture is disappearing, I see no point in subsidizing the illusion that it isn't for me. It is what it is. I'd be more inclined to support the disappearance of film and television culture, industries whose product arguably imposes more of a burden on me than the dearth of good bookstores. But they are what they are. Avoiding them is difficult, but not impossible.

And yet I'm not entirely comfortable with the calculation of benefits and costs to me as the proper way to address the question. I only consider it because that's what I'm expected to do, rather than to exercise altruism or paternalism, to make "culture," rather than its benefits that accrue to me, my priority.

Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, NY nearly went out of business, but employees and customers stepped in and reopened it as a cooperative. Seems to be doing well so far; time will tell.

I'm annoyed that my brother keeps giving me gift certificates to Amazon; I should tell him outright to get ones from Buffalo Street Books instead.

No retail business is immune any more.

We all forgot travel agencies.

Good riddance to Best Buy and the "big box" stores. We recently had to wait over a week for a scheduled service call to repair a washing machine purchased there (not by us). The Geek Squad guys came out, did the work, but failed to check that the machine would in fact operate. A water filter had come loose and released water all over the floor when we ran the first load, after the geeks left, naturally. So we had to wait another day for the geeks to return.

Let me testify to real service remotely (not "virtually") delivered by a very small operation in upstate New York state. North Country Audio, run by the very friendly, very astute Vladimir, features a carefully selected line of high-end audio equipment. I was in the market a couple years ago for a new device for my system, a DAC. Vladimir shipped me a unit to audition at no charge to me, along with an alternate device to try out. I spent a few days listening and shipped them back, at no charge to me. I then purchased the DAC. He shipped it to me at no charge to me. I thought I detected a problem (a frequent occurrence over the years when I unload a hefty sum on hi-fi toys, akin to buyer's remorse). Vladimir insisted on shipping the original demo unit for comparison, at no charge to me. I ran the comparison, was satisfied that I had made up the problem, and returned the demo, at no charge to me. To this day, I love and enjoy the DAC. Sure, the mark-up allows Vladimir some leeway to treat his customers this way, but I know I wouldn't get that kind of service from many local brick-and-mortar stores.

My point: even if there were no Internet, Best Buy would suck.

Travel agencies aren't all suffering.

The one travel agent I know who is still working in that field makes a very good living getting on "experiences" for people who have no budgetary constraints. They tell her the feel they're going for (some phone sex is involved), the number of people, the occasion, and she starts to work. A 100K week-long birthday celebration for 6 on a private island? Sure. And please get the event logo embroidered on all the linens and give-away bathrobes. Yup. And arrange for a private videographer and an oral historian to hover at a discreet distance -- a superb party favor. Is there some reason a favorite movie star -- human or animal -- of the birthday boy or girl cannot be flown in to say hi and break bread? No reason why not, but the 100K budget won't go that far, which is okay, because this should be extra. The only client who ever pleasantly surprised this agent was the one who told her to take 20K away from the festivities, while leaving them plenty festive -- he said his wife, whose birthday it was, would be truly best pleased if they gave _that_ money to medical research.

And Marcus books in the Bay Area: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-marcus-books-20120101,0,1155626,full.story

And Dean, I'd ask you to give the "spirituality" thing a try again: John Cottingham, The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005). While Cottingham is a Catholic and I'm an "aspiring Buddhist," there's much here that transcends religions as such and gets, I think, to the heart of "the spiritual" which, on this account, is more about a praxis, i.e., spiritual exercises (e.g., the Stoics), than about beliefs (without ignoring the latter). And I'd be interested in you and/or your co-bloggers thoughts on these posts (I plan to continue the series anon): http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2010/02/religion-spirituality-and-philosophy.html and here: http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2010/03/spirituality-religion-and-philosophy-part-ii.html

Patrick: Thanks for visiting and for the links to your thoughts on spirituality. Perhaps one of our bloggers will respond to your thoughts although most of us here are not much into spirituality and therefore not the best candidates to engage with you on this topic. But I may be wrong and someone will.

I know Patrick, virtually, from another forum, and I urge folks to glance at his work at Ratio Juris from time to time. I'll email him directly in response to his comment here.

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