03 January 2015

Paper is the New Vinyl

Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Highland Park, Saint Paul
Closed December 2015
English poet Lord Byron wrote, "A drop of ink may make a million think", which has held true since the 15th century Gutenberg Press.
Johannes Gutenberg was the first European to use movable type printing circa 1439.
The written word thrives, but the form has changed. Mass production of paper books is in steep decline.

The decline of the paper book, the independent bookseller, and the big box bookseller parallels most of my adult life.

Independent Booksellers

Independent booksellers endured a protracted decline. Those that remain seem comforting but anachronistic. The decline was prompted by hyper-competitive big box booksellers, but prolonged by the missionary zeal of ownership and the fierce loyalty of customers.
The Bookshop has a thousand books,
All colors, hues, and tinges,
And every cover is a door
That turns on magic hinges.
Nancy Byrd Turner
My favorite independent, Hungry Mind, operated on Grand Avenue from 1970-2000. Hungry Mind sold the rights to their name in 1999 for a cash infusion. By the following April, it assumed the new name Ruminator Bookstore. Four years hence the Ruminator space was emptied out and replaced with a local branch of the upscale clothier Patagonia.

Big Box Booksellers

Bricks and mortar, big box bookstores are disappearing too. Barnes & Noble in Highland Park closed this past December. The decline of big box booksellers was prompted by better e-commerce tools, better e-readers and by the growing mass-produced and independently-produced digital markets.

Bookish Future

Alan Watts said, "The menu is not the meal" which neatly dovetails with the consumption of the written word. The written word is increasingly consumed in some form of digital text or audio. Collectors of finely crafted traditional paper books will drive a small but burgeoning market of limited edition, hand-printed, hand-bound books.

Ink is disappearing. The digital form thrives. And for collectors and traditionalists,
Paper is the new vinyl.


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