We live in the digital age, an age perhaps only in its early stages -- and who knows what the future will bring.
Many businesses – newspaper publishing among them – are confronting that reality. Some people, either out of a spirit of Luddite-ism, techno-fear or simply a belief they don’t need to be bothered by new-fangled things, may resist. But the change, already profound, is with us to stay as surely as papyrus replaced stone tablets or steam-powered looms replaced foot-peddle shuttles.
Book selling has been hit as hard by that sweeping change as any business. A bound, hardcover book may seem anachronistic to a generation accustomed to getting their information on smart-phone screens not much bigger than an index card and communicating in 140-character bursts.
Kindles, Nooks, tablets, those ubiquitous smart phones all are platforms designed for the instant gratification of a downloaded e-book and for the compactness of carrying a week’s worth of vacation reading in a coat pocket or purse. And for many people, if they do want that hardcover book, Amazon or other on-line shopping services will have it to you in days, maybe hours, and you never have to leave your couch.
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All that surely must have meant doom long since for the local independent book store.
Surely not. The American Book Sellers Association says that, after a wave of closings around the turn of the century, the number of independent book stores has grown 30 percent since 2009, to 2,311.
Saturday those who still crave those physical objects will celebrate Independent Bookstore Day.
“Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers,” the website indiebookstore.com notes. “They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent.”
In the Durham-Chapel Hill area, we’re blessed with several examples, from The Regulator, serving customers on Ninth Street for more than three decades, to newer outlets such as Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill or the Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham.
The Regulator, Flyleaf and McIntyre’s Fine Books in Fearrington Village will have special events for the day. Tom Campbell, co-owner of the Regulator, is eloquent in his characterization of what he and his fellow booksellers provide.
“It cuts against the digital culture where you’re sitting at a computer, (and) you’re not really interacting in real time with a real person,” he said. “A place where you can come and do that that’s open and abiding and relaxing but yet is full of ideas, I think that’s something that people are attracted to because there’s not many places like that anymore.”
Let’s join in celebrating those places on Saturday.