Orrin Onken's Blog

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MARCH 22, 2011 9:50PM

I killed the Bookstore

Rate: 8 Flag

I am the one. I killed the bookstore. I did it with my Kindle.

The murder weapon sits in front of me on the coffee table. It is a first edition Kindle. It cost me $350. By today's standards it is heavy, slow, and primitive. It has to be recharged as often as once a week. Compared to my wife's third generation Kindle, mine is a relic.

I currently have about fifty titles on my Kindle. I keep my list pared down by deleting books I have read. Should I need to look at one of them again, I can download it again. Considering how many titles my Kindle will hold, it is nearly empty.

I buy books for my Kindle through Amazon. When given the choice of paper or e-book, I choose the electronic version. It is not a price-driven decision. I am willing to pay more for an e-book than a paper book because my Kindle is easier to hold and read. With a Kindle I can change font sizes. I can highlight passages and look up words without moving from my chair. My hand does not tire while holding a Kindle and pages turn with the touch of a button.

The Kindle has not saved me money. I thought it might because books in the public domain are free or close to it. The other day I started the fifth book in Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire novels. In paperback the series might have cost me a hundred dollars. On the Kindle it was free. The problem is that I read a lot more than what is available in the public domain and my Kindle makes impulse buying ridiculously easy. If I read a good review or hear an author interviewed, I can have the book on my Kindle in minutes. Before owning a Kindle I would have long forgotten the well-reviewed book by the time I next visited a book store. Owning a Kindle, I read more and I spend more.

I feel bad about killing the bookstore. I love books. I once worked in a bookstore. I like unpacking the books that come in the back door, putting them on the shelves, and sending them out the front door with customers. I like the artwork on the covers of books, and I like the blurbs on the back. I like browsing in bookstores. I like having books around me, and I like the smell of ink on paper. But when it comes to actually reading, the Kindle is better.

I know what I am supposed to do. I should get on my bicycle once a week, pedal to the Max train, and travel to one of the few independent bookstores remaining. I should eschew the markdowns at Costco and Walmart, paying full price to support local businesses and local artists. I should line my home with shelves and fill the shelves with books so that I can lend my volumes to friends and leave the collection to my children when I die. I know that I should do all these things, but all I really want to do is read.

Once or month or so I come across an article taking me to task for being complicit in Amazon or Google's efforts to take over the world, for not buying a Nook or a Sony or an open source alternative to the Kindle, or for sitting idly by while self-publishing amateurs threaten the holy alliance of writer-agent-publisher that keeps us all safe from poorly written books. The articles remind me that sitting down to enjoy a good read, is not a simple matter. Every time I do it, money and reputations are being made. I promise myself that in the future when I want to read, I will more carefully consider the consequences. That promise, however, is difficult for me to keep when it is raining outside and all I really want is to curl up with an Elmore Leonard western.

I mourn the loss of the bookstore, just as I mourned the loss of the home-owned independent bookstore when the chains drove most of them out of business. I love Powells, the flagship of Portland literacy and the employer of last resort for every young Oregonian with a masters degree in the liberal arts. I want Powell's to always be there because for me going to Powell's is an event. I browse the aisles, grab a cup at the coffee shop, and make mental notes of new and interesting titles. Then I go home and see what I can get on my Kindle. I love book stores for the experience they offer, but I don't really want to buy my books in them.

So here I am with my Kindle, driving a stake into the heart of Western civilization just so I can read the Barsetshire novels without having to go out in the rain. Do I feel good about it? No I don't. Am I likely to change? No, I am not.

So this is my apology to all those booksellers out there who bet on the paper book. I am sorry. I tried my best, but when it comes right down to it, I am a person who just wants to read. When the paper book was the only way to satisfy that desire, I was there for you. But things are different now. Paper books are for collectors, not readers. They are reference sources, investments, or nicknacks to round out the look of a room. I will still buy them, and I will still go to book stores. But when I simply want to read, I will reach for my Kindle.




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books, kindle, bookstores

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Comments

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Yes, and we too have been complicit in this killing; my husband and me...second generation and first respectively. Back when we could afford it, we used to buy handsome hardbacks to "round out the look of a room", often the very same books we had read on our Kindles, but now...it's Kindle or audio all the way. I used to be a big Borders Books person, and now they're going out of business. I feel bad about that, but not bad enough to give up my Kindle.
Yeah, but you can't hollow out a kindle to hide your shiv! just sayin.
Amen, brother. Count me as an accessory. But don't dismiss the Nook, and especially the Nook Color -- Barnes and Noble has more books available and I love the back-lit screen; not hard on my eyes at all, though I can't speak for anyone else. I'll know more after I finish the new womnderful Pevear and Volhokonsky translation of War and Peace I just downloaded ...
I received a book I ordered through interlibrary loan today. It's titled Murder for Love. It was written by Ione Quimby and was published in 1931 by Covici-Friede, Inc. I first saw it referenced in another book, The Girls of Murder City, by Douglas Perry. This book came from the John Clayton Fant Memorial Library which is part of the ever so quaintly named Mississippi State College for Women in Columbus, Mississippi. The cover is red and the title is black. Inside the pages are fat and fiberous. The edges are deckled. When opened it makes me feel a little giddy, perhaps from hallucinagenic mold sometimes found in old book. Maybe someday they'll invent an app for that. As far as I can tell this book isn't available on Kindle and to buy a used hard copy would have cost me $53.99. Right now this book has traveled over five hundred and twenty miles to reach me and I'm looking forward to reading it when I get home.
Where books are concerned, I am bi: I still have plenty of hardback and paperback books that literally surround me, and I still buy books in paper, but I also love my NOOK Color, which I got as a birthday gift last month. Its ability to access the Internet as well as being a full-color e-reader makes it superior to the Kindle, in my e-book (har har).

At any rate, there is no reason to fight technological change. Before books in paper there were scrolls and before scrolls there were stone tablets... We evolve.
I love my Nook, (a shirt tail relative), but I do miss being able to page through quickly to look something up. I am in a book club that reads two books a month, so it has saved me a tremendous amount of time running around looking for some random selection. I still run into the Boulder Bookstore, one of the best independents in town, will browse and occasionally buy something. ~For old times sake!!!
rated~ congrats on the EP!
As a bookseller, fuck off.

Thank you.
I'm guilty as charged. I just bought my Kindle Wi-Fi and I can't believe it took me so long to get one. I LOVE it. I read faster and I noticed that I read MORE with a Kindle. I've always been a reader but this ridiculous. I'm addicted to it. As a matter of fact I am currently reading a soft cover book that I bought before my Kindle and I feel like I'm cheating on my Kindle. However, I am making the sacrifice because I know if I don't read it now I will never get back to it. I am trying to "liquidate" my book inventory so that I can go exclusive with my Kindle. I plan an making her my steady. Rated...with guilt.
Great piece, I can really relate in that I also love books and bookstores. But the ability to sample books I hear about or see great reviews for is a sweet, sweet luxury that make me love my Kindle to the point where my partner gently suggested I may want to "marry it". (Also for a poster above regarding the Nook, you can access the internet on the Kindle and I do so quite bit.) I prefer the non-backlit format as it lets me read everywhere I would normally read books, that is; everywhere.

My field of advertising, which I've excelled in for 35+ years, no longer needs me. All marketing is moving to Social Media, and the few Print and TV ads still produced don't need to be done by this "expensive" 50 year old. I could say: as a Graphic Designer "fuck off" but no one is holding the future back for me any more than they are for booksellers.
@Laura Wilkerson...

I am not a fan of Kindles, Nooks, etc., etc. for precisely that reason.

I remember the heady days of transition from LPs to CDs, and my utter devastation when I realized that many of the recodings I cherished - including a collection of Vejvanovsky sonatas on an obscure Czech label (recorded in the 1950s, I believe, by a small Hungarian chamber orchestra) - would never be released on CD. To this day, I have not been able to replace a huge chunk of the recodings that I owned on vinyl. I certainly could get the music transferred to CD, then rip it to my computer... but that isn't the point. The point is that those recordings are not available to any potential new audience.

And so it willl go with the Kindle.

I first read "I Capture the Castle" by Dodie Smith when it was out of print. Luckily, it went back into print as a result of a movie being made. If it had not, and were still out of print, how many people would simply never even know that wonderful book existed?

Is there a solution to this with the modern readers? I think not.
Let's face it “The Shop Around the Corner” disappeared long before e-books arrived on the scene.

Joe Fox: [on the new Fox Books superstore] Hey, you know what? We should announce ourselves to the neighborhood. Just let them know, here we come. 
Kevin: Oh, no, this is the Upper West Side, man. We might as well tell 'em we're opening up a crack house. They're gonna hate us. Soon as they hear, they're gonna be lining up... 
Joe Fox: - to picket the big bad chain store... 
Kevin: - that's out to destroy... 
Joe Fox: - everything they hold dear. 
Kevin: Yeah. 
Joe Fox: Do you know what? We are going to seduce them. We're going to seduce them with our square footage, and our discounts, and our deep armchairs, and... 
Kevin: Our cappuccino. 
Joe Fox: That's right. They're going to hate us at the beginning, but... 
Kevin: But we'll get 'em in the end. 
Joe Fox: Do you know why? 
Kevin: Why? 
Joe Fox: Because we're going to sell them cheap books and legal addictive stimulants. In the meantime, we'll just put up a big sign: "Coming soon: a FoxBooks superstore and the end of civilization as you know it." (You've Got Mail)

...and so the charm of bookstores has been replaced with “ATTITUDE.” (See Ted Burke's comment posted above.)

IF, I could find an indie bookstores within 50 miles of my place-I'd make it a monthly week-end destination. Living on a “remote” mountain, I'm more inclined ;-) to save the cost of fuel in order to buy more books. I tell myself e-books come in several shades of “green” and that eases my guilt over not driving all over the western hemisphere in hopes that I might perpetuate the charm of yesteryear.


@ Red-kira, Check out Project Gutenberg @ http://www.gutenberg.org
If you use your Kindle to read newspapers or magazines, you will save money - and a few million trees. Books, as you pointed out, not so much.
@justanotherAJ:

Actually, I can truthfully say that I rarely gave less than 100 percent in how I helped my customers through the years; my people skills are , in fact, quite good. Above all else, technology has made it easy for people to buy books and most other items on line, a development of the last two decades that has killed bookstores in general, cost a fair number of dedicated book people their livelihoods, and which has made neighborhoods all the more impoverished for the lack of a place to browse and purchase. I do not blame customers for choosing to shop via the internet rather than going to the local bookstore, corporate or independent. What I find irritating is Orrin's headline which attempts to turn this pathetic transition into a joke. If you walk into my store, you'll be greeted by a friendly staff that is eager to help you find a book or make recommendations if so asked. If you go on line and post , even jokingly, "I killed the bookstore", I , as a bookseller, say "Fuck off".

Thank you.
@justanotherAJ:

Actually, I can truthfully say that I rarely gave less than 100 percent in how I helped my customers through the years; my people skills are , in fact, quite good. Above all else, technology has made it easy for people to buy books and most other items on line, a development of the last two decades that has killed bookstores in general, cost a fair number of dedicated book people their livelihoods, and which has made neighborhoods all the more impoverished for the lack of a place to browse and purchase. I do not blame customers for choosing to shop via the internet rather than going to the local bookstore, corporate or independent. What I find irritating is Orrin's headline which attempts to turn this pathetic transition into a joke. If you walk into my store, you'll be greeted by a friendly staff that is eager to help you find a book or make recommendations if so asked. If you go on line and post , even jokingly, "I killed the bookstore", I , as a bookseller, say "Fuck off".

Thank you.