From The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Cathy Fiebach doesn’t believe in chasing lost causes.
She’s an experienced, 46-year-old businesswoman who pays attention to market forces and opportunities. And she’s about to open a type of business some think dead:
An independent bookstore.
Main Point Books, its name harking back to the famed Main Point coffeehouse that helped launch musicians like Bruce Springsteen, and to the concept that books have a central idea, opens Tuesday in Bryn Mawr.
“A few people have hugged me,” Fiebach said as she and a friend stocked shelves. “My parents thought I was a little insane.”
More at the link.
Her parents might not be the only ones worried that she was a little bit insane. I will be the first to admit: I love the feeling of holding and reading a good book, and I love the look of a large, well-filled bookcase as part of a house’s decor. I have spent more on books than I might otherwise have done, to have good hardbacks for the bookshelves.
But when I quoted from A Princess of Mars yesterday, I didn’t have to type that in, but was able to look it up, for free, on the internet, that book now being in the public domain, and when I got my “copy” of that book, it was delivered, almost instantly, to my tablet via Amazon.com. When I noted that I was reading Joseph Plumb Martin’s Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier, I mentioned that, for a tax-free $4.58, it had already been delivered to my Kindle. I might like books, but I’m as guilty as anyone in buying the less expensive, tax-free, delivered-in-an-instant electronic books rather than burning gasoline to drive to the bookstore, picking up a more expensive printed copy, paying sales tax, and then burning more fuel to get back home. Environmentally, practically and economically, it’s the wiser decision.
As for Mrs Fiebach, I hope that she and her bookstore are successful. But I am reminded of Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, where she tries diligently to survive competing against the big, discount bookstore opened by Tom Hanks, telling her staff at The Shop Around The Corner that they’ll do just fine, because while they can’t compete on price, they’ll outperform Fox Books on customer service and friendliness.
It takes a couple months, but she goes out of business.
Less directly, I think of former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), who loathed WalMart — many people do, believing that WalMart destroys local businesses — and said he wouldn’t shop there, but sent one of his minions to WalMart to get a first unit of Playstation 3.1
It’s simple: WalMart had what Mr Edwards wanted, possibly at a discounted price, and promptly available. To go to WalMart was the economically sensible decision, even if it turned out to not be the most politically profitable one.
And that is the problem for Mrs Fiebach’s independent bookstore. Yes, I’d like to see her survive,2 just like I’d like to see print newspapers survive, but, bluntly put, printed books and newspapers are 18th century technology.3 As much as people say that the prefer the older, simpler ways, the advances of society and the economics of the situation wind up pushing people, inexorably, to the newer technologies.
- Mr Edwards claimed that it was all a mistake, done on the initiative of his staffer, but Mr Edwards doesn’t have much of a reputation for either telling the truth or sacrificing what he wants just to keep his promises. Plainly put, I do not believe him for a moment. ↩
- For the record, on those occasions when I do go to the bookstore, it’s almost always Barnes & Noble, a large bookstore, rather than an independent, simply because their prices are lower and their selection much wider. ↩
- The Star Trek episode Court Martial lamented the demise of printed books, lost to computers, but Jake Sisko, one of the main characters in the spin off series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, was depicted several times using a reading device which looked a lot like a Kindle, well before the introduction of Kindles. ↩