Sunday, September 5, 2010

The First Domino Falls

I planned on having a relaxing day today, to work on some copyediting projects and spend some time reading. So I decided to go to Borders and hang out in the cafe and work there. I went just after lunchtime, and I was able to find a $30 A/C adapter for my Sony Reader for just $7.50. Needless to say, I was a happy camper and settled down in the cafe to get some work done.

Later in the afternoon, my stomach started grumbling, telling me it was ready for some food. The first inkling of a headache had started, so I figured it was time to grab a bite to eat. After I hit McDonalds, I had an urge to stop at Books-A-Million (BAM) in Raleigh because I hadn't been by in a while. When I pulled up, I found the store windows decorated with bright yellow signs proclaiming "50% off already marked price." I thought, well, that's one heck of a Labor day sale. Glad I stopped today!

After browsing the store for a bit, I reasoned that there was no way everything is 50% off. I stopped a sales clerk that was passing by and asked her if everything was on sale. She assured me that it was, and immediately my mind started calculating ways to "free" up some money so I could score some books. I went after ones that I knew would be cheaper to buy in paper form than ebook form. After all, now that I have and e-reader, I'm all about saving as much money as possible.

I lugged my armful of books to the checkout counter and grinned as the sales clerk rang up my goodies. I asked how long the sale was going to last, sure it was just a one day deal. The clerk looked at me stone-faced and said, "Till the 18th, when we close." I thought I had misheard, so I asked again. Nope, I hadn't misheard. The only Books-A-Million in Raleigh, NC, is closing on September 18th.

At first, I was shocked by this news. BAM was my preferred bookstore to go to until about six months ago. I've always had a BAM near me to go to. Soon, my faithful standby will be gone. Needless to say, I scrambled and grabbed another armful of books to buy.

But after I got a coffee and settled down in the cafe, I thought about the whole situation some more. The shock began to wear off after a little while and I came to realize that stuff Scott Nicholson and J. A. Konrath have been talking about is finally coming to fruition. Heck, I had even told my wife when I bought my Sony Reader that I thought traditional bookstores would start closing down in a couple of years. I guess, if anything, the thing that shocks me most about BAM closing is how soon it's occurring, not the fact that it's happening.

I won't be surprised to see other chains start doing the same thing around here. We have three Barnes & Nobles and two Borders here in Raleigh. I think it's just a matter of when, not if, for them. The nostalgic part of me is going to miss them. Especially BAM, since it was always my "go-to" store. But another part of me is excited. And not just because I scored some cheap books today. This is an exciting and turbulent time we are in, and I can't wait to see what changes are coming. I suggest you hold on tight. The winds of change are blowing strong.

Speaking of winds blowing, I'll leave you with a quote, or maybe more of a paraphrase, from the comedian Ron White: "It's not that the wind is blowing, it's what the wind is blowing."


author Scott Nicholson said...

Great, Neal, but it's not the first domino! It's in the early part of the middle of the row. The tip started when indies began closing in droves, thanks to BAM, B & N et al. Well, thanks to consumers and their choices, really. I find it hard to be sad. A little sentimental, but I did what I could.


Neal Hock said...

I stand corrected, Scott. :) It probably looks like the beginning to me simply because the indies just weren't there when I became serious with my book obsession. For me, nostalgia is a powerful force. But I have to remember that's all it is: nostalgia. BAM was the place I went to get my books in high school; it was the place I sometimes went to study when I was in college; it was the place I went to "relax" sometimes when life was busy. But it won't be the place where I buy my books in the future.


author Christa Polkinhorn said...

The only Borders in Santa Monica, CA, closed a couple of years ago. B&N is still here. Most of the Indies are gone, except for a few which have a niche, an art and architecture bookstore, for instance. I think the B&N/Starbucks association has helped B&N to survive. Lots of people sitting at Starbucks with their laptops. Perhaps some Indies will survive or re-emerge, those that offer something special to attract customers, those who sponsor readings and other book-related events, those who have a comfortable reading/writing area and offer better coffee than Starbucks does. We'll see.

Neal Hock said...


I hope Indies like that would re-emerge one day. I agree it will have to be places that offer something unique, not just places centered on physical books. As demonstrated by Twitter and Facebook, people are still quite social-minded. I believe it will be places focused on this social-mindedness that will emerge.