As you may have heard, bookseller giant Borders declared bankruptcy this week. Related to this, Harry McCracken wrote an interesting post on the Technologizer blog about the collapse of physical media retailers in recent years. Of course, digital media, and especially piracy, has long been declared the culprit responsible for slacking sales.
The piracy thing always sounded overstated. I honestly don’t think that a lot of those who so frequently sought pirated content were the kind of consumers that were die hard for factory sealed releases anyways. Especially movies; the quality of bootlegs often tends to be pretty bad. I for one can’t really get into a movie dimly shot in a Ukranian theather at a weird angle, and with people in the audience occasionally appearing as a silhouette on the screen as they get up to leave for the bathroom.
Still, even without the piracy consideration, there is a lot to be said for digital content. Like most people, I didn’t have to settle for buying my books in expensive chains because I could find the same titles much cheaper (new or used) on Amazon or other online booksellers. Even this put a hammer in the cogs of the college textbook industry. Digital content meant we could find what we wanted more easily. And often, more directly. It opened up choice and lowered the price. Plus, everything became about portability. Streaming and downloading onto tiny devices meant we no longer had to load up on hard copy formats and then find someplace to put it all.
There’s also something to be said for the kind of business you create and the loyalty (or lack thereof) that stems from it. Following McCracken’s brief timeline of physical media retail giants who eventually closed their doors in the last decade — although Circuit City, who shut down in 2009, was noticeably absent from the list — there’s a small bit of silver lining: that the small shops with character managed to survive the wake, even if only somewhat (since being in business is a tough business).
The best locally-owned purveyors of physical media seem to be in better shape than the soulless megachains. San Francisco’s Amoeba Music, Le Video, and Green Apple Books, for instance, are sprawling, wonderfully quirky independents that are still very much with us.
The Washington Square News reported something similar. Who knew?!
I mean, besides these guys…