Monday, November 15, 2010

Is book store's bankruptcy a sign of things to come?

In November of 1986 in Lexington, Kentucky, Joseph-Beth Booksellers opened the door of its first store. Operating as a successful independent book store and named the "1989 Small Business of the Year" by Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce, the company soon expanded in the 1990s, eventually operating seven stores with the Joseph-Beth name and two stores as Davis-Kidd Booksellers. By the late 1990s, the company had stores in Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately for book lovers, much of that is coming to an end.

On November 11, 2010, Joseph-Beth Booksellers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to give itself time to restructure within the company in hopes of surviving as a business. To that end, several stores will be closing, including a store in Cleveland, Ohio; one in Nashville, Tennessee; another in Charlotte, North Carolina; and one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At least for the time being, there are no announcements of further stores closing.

If this were the only business within the book industry that is facing hard times, this might just be the story of one business forcing itself to make changes.

But possibly this is a sign of the future.

Rumors abound about the book store chain Borders potentially filling for bankruptcy, and the king of book selling, Barnes & Noble, is not free of such speculation, either. Even book publishers seem to be struggling to thrive, possibly even to survive, with the new digital publishing looming.

What is bringing about these tough times for the book industry?

Ask writers, readers, publishers and editors and you will get a lot of different answers. People don't read like they used to. Books have become too expensive due to printing and paper costs. Digital publishing is destroying traditional print publishing. The economy. The Internet. Amazon.

But the book publishing industry has long been one to predict the sky is falling. Ask anyone who has been in the business for at least a couple of decades, and it's easy enough to find this out.

It's obvious the book industry is going through major, potentially painful changes. As for what is causing these changes, the smart answer would be "multiple things," including all of those mentioned above.

Are people reading less? Dozens of newspaper and media articles seem to say so.

And the economy and changes in technology are obviously rearing their heads.

Does all this mean more and more book-related companies will be filing for bankruptcy? Possibly even going out of business?

The truthful answer is, nobody knows.

But the smart money would be on "yes."

With digital publishing, mainly through e-books, the book industry is changing every day. Most in the business tend to believe e-books will never completely take over printed books, but those with smarts realize e-books still might be able to take up as much as 50 percent of the book market, or possibly even more, and only in a matter of years. How many years? Some say two. Some five. Others, fifty. No one knows for sure.

But it's a solid bet that with e-reading devices such as the Kindle and Nook becoming more common, and e-reader publishing sites such as Smashwords drawing in more publishers and indie writers, e-books are here to stay and will continue to be a growing segment of the reading market. Plus, more and more people are reading on their computers or through apps.

Whatever will happen with the print book industry, everyone knows it's going to change.

But for those of us who love books and reading, let's hope there will be as few bankruptcies and company closings as possibly. Even with a Kindle in our hands, many of us still love to stroll through book stores and many of us still like to have actual print copies of our favorite books.

And for those who love Joseph Beth Booksellers, who perhaps even grew up with the store and love it, do not be overly worried. At least not yet. The company is not going out of business, and the main store in Lexington, Kentucky, is still there. Who knows? Perhaps this restructuring will make the company stronger, and it'll be around for a long, long time.

Book lovers can only hope so. Especially me, because Joseph-Beth was the book store I grew up with, and I'd hate to see it gone.


David Barron said...

I won't really shed a tear for B&N et al, but I will have a bookshop even if I have to open one myself, a bar with one of those Print-on-Demand Machines in the back.

I'll call it the Book Pub.

Charles Gramlich said...

Scary times, and yet exciting ones.