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.