Armen Chakmakjian

On the Swan Song of Bookstores…

In 60's Television, College, history, Kindle, Literature, Movie, technology on March 6, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I’m always fascinated by the transition of one era to another and the clash of people, values and technologies.  History is a funny thing and you can say that you are doomed to repeat it if you don’t read it, but I look at it quite differently.  You are doomed by history because it will it will repeat itself no matter what…ok so doomed is a strong word.  Maybe it is more like you are destined to relive events.

So yesterday afternoon, I went to a Barnes and Noble.  Being a self-described author and book lover, I was in my element.  But I suddenly had a strange sensation.  I began to replay the transition from LP’s to CD’s to MP3s.  I thought about Movie Theaters to Home Theaters.  I mused over black and white television and a wired remote control Zenith console TV and 4 channels to a 1080P HDTV with 100’s of channels.     I remembered that both my wife and I at different times had a part-time job in a library (in different cities of course before we knew each other).  And I was now in a bookstore.  The place is colorful, every cover and shiny picture gleaming.  The magazine rack was beautiful.  And there was the coffee shop.  and a counter for the “Nook”  And between the thought of the library at Bentley (which I laugh often about seems to have no books in it and is just a huge study hall)  and the thought of my kindle and people reading on iPhones and the upcoming iPad…and I got a touch sad.

My mind immediately remembered Tower Records, and even farther back, in college visiting the Great Great House of Guitars outside Rochester, with the millions of records and CDs.  Album cover art died with CDs.  A whole art form disappeared.  Music was sold as 3 things.  You had the music (analog), the media (vinyl), and the Album covers.  And now I am in a bookstore where the books and magazines are sold because of 3 things.  The words (print), the media (paper) and book covers.  I felt suddenly like books were having their swan song as well as the place you can buy them.  What happens when most printed media can be downloaded?  What then is the purpose of this huge Barnes and Noble.  Just a coffee shop and study hall?  Could they start renting rooms for meetings?

About 2 years ago, about the time I published my e-book, my sons and I went into a Borders and I went straight for the coffee while they pulled books off the rack. I bought them cookies and milk and they were having fun talking about what they were reading.  I said to them, waving right hands in a somewhat of a papal fashion, “All this will be gone in ten years.”  My sons got quite upset.  They loved books and they chided me for thinking it.  But yesterday I remembered that statement, and looked around the Barnes and Noble and said to myself, “This is a coffee shop and study hall…this is Tower Records before iTunes…”

I then pulled out my laptop and made some edits to a paper for my graduate school class, enjoyed my coffee and soaked in the environment before its demise…


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