As you know, I periodically like to wax philosophical on the possible futures of the book industry (see here and here for a couple examples of previous posts on the topic from the last few months), and obviously I’m not the only one to do so. Here’s a nice piece by John Steele Gordon on “the end of the book.” I agree with Gordon that it is far to premature to write the book (as we know it) off completely, though I see the eBook increasingly making inroads into the traditional book market. I think that indie bookstores are in real trouble — how many will survive the next decade? not many, I suspect — and while the partial collapse of Borders eases some of the pressure on Barnes & Noble, I think that B&N will ultimately focus most of their business on selling digital products.
The situation is, I think, a parallel to what we’ve seen in the video rental industry. In the early and mid-’80s, there were lots of little independent VHS rental places and small chains. Then Blockbuster became huge and pushed most of these indies out of business (how could they compete?). Fast forward a few more years, and Blockbuster has entered bankruptcy and is in real trouble because of Netflix, cable companies’ digital provider services and the like. Heck, even Netflix wants to move to an all-streaming service as fast as possible. No one wants to actually operate brick-and-mortar locations to sell/rent media if they can provide media digitally.
I’m not the first to make this analogy, but I think we’re seeing something like it play out in the book industry.