The Internet, Amazon, e-books. Who needs a bookstore these days?
At least once a week people walk into The Regulator and tell us how surprised (and usually how pleased) they are to see that a shop like ours is still in business. But as the long time co-owner of Durham’s independent bookstore, I’m not all that surprised that bookstores like ours are still doing well. In part that’s because I am privileged to see, on a daily basis, the many ways that people need and appreciate a good bookstore. Here’s a look at a few of the folks that still seem to need a bookstore:
• The two boys, ages about 5 and 7, who burst through our front door on the run the other day, calling out in excitement as they sprinted toward the children’s section at the back of the store. They knew they were going to get to look through dozens of books and then pick one or two really special books to take home with them; books that would live with them, in their rooms, from that day on.
• All the grown-ups who enjoy a leisurely browse through our shelves, our displays, and our recommended books. Even with all the information available online, studies show that people mostly find out about the books they read from browsing in bookstores or talking with friends. And for many of us book-huggers, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of browsing through shelf after shelf of current and classic books, each one carefully chosen by someone working right in that store.
• People who like “real” books. E-books may be convenient (and we sell them, along with Kobo e-readers), but e-books are probably not the best choice for people who want to dive deeply into their reading. Studies have shown that most of the people who buy e-books also buy print books – and that they finish their print books far more often than they finish their e-books. A Scientific American article this spring titled “Do e-readers inhibit reading comprehension?” concluded that “Research suggests that the devices can prevent readers from wholly absorbing longer texts.” The article also indicated that long-term memory of what a person has read is less when it has been read on a screen.
Who else needs a bookstore?
People who enjoy being part of a community of readers. People who like spending time in a place where everyone is there because they love reading and books. People who want to support their local community, economically and culturally, through their purchases. People who feel it might be important to disconnect, slow down and concentrate for a while in the midst of our distracted digital days.
To quote from a marvelous new book, “Slow Reading in a Hurried Age” by David Mikics: “Slowness and concentration are needed to learn to do anything well that is worth doing well, from fly-fishing to electrical engineering to playing the violin.”
In other words, if you really want to get down to it with most anything, you need to slow down and pay attention. That’s what reading a book is all about, and bookstores remain wonderful portals to that experience.
Tom Campbell is the co-owner of The Regulator Bookshop.