July 18, 2011 | 5:46 pm
Posted by Jonathan Kirsch
Long ago, one of the charms of State Street in Santa Barbara was Earthling Books, one of those warm and welcoming bookstores that were the glory of bookselling not so long ago. But Earthling was choked out of existence when Borders moved into a former bank building not far away, and the same thing happened to Sisterhood Bookstore on Westwood Boulevard in Los Angeles when a Borders store opened directly across the street.
Conspiracy theorists held that Borders searched out neighborhoods where vigorous independents were doing business and sited their new stores with the intent to drawing away their customers and thereby doing away with them. Patrons of the Earthling and Sisterhood could certainly have been forgiven for suspecting such predatory practices.
Now, however, Borders is the prey and not the predator. After struggling to save what they could in bankruptcy, the company has given up the fight and announced its plans to close the remaining 399 stores across the country.
No single villain can be singled out for the failure of what was once a leading national bookstore chain. In a sense, what killed Earthling and Sisterhood also killed Borders — the decline of bricks-and-mortar retailing in general and the collapse of retail outlets for media products in particular. Just as the record store is now obsolete because it’s easier to buy digital music online, the bookstore is endangered by both the e-book and the online book retailers who sell print, audio and electronic books.
Those of us who still love bookstores are not wholly without places to go, but it is certainly getting harder and harder to find them. For us, no e-book will ever replace the tactile pleasure of a printed book, and no amount of browsing at Amazon.com will ever provide the sense of place and the social connectedness that the Earthling (and Borders, too) offered us. Nor will these pleasures ever come back to us in quite the same way. Indeed, the final agony of Borders seems to prove that we are past the tipping point. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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