Monday, November 9, 2009

More Gloom For the Bookstore Business

Waldenbooks says they will close 200 stores after Christmas. That means another 1500 booksellers out of work. When I worked at Waldenbooks it had well over a thousand stores. It will be well under 200 by this spring.

Waldenbooks began in 1933 as a rental library. People who wanted to read popular books would pay three cents a day to borrow them. It was a great business and by the mid-1940s they had over 250 locations. In the 50s the new killer app came out: the affordable paperbound book. Rental libraries, once a vital part of the cultural landscape of America, went the way of the gaslight. Waldenbooks adapted and thrived.

Today's killer apps, ebooks, the internet, and big box bookstores (which won't survive this century either), are too great a change for the now mall-based chain (malls aren't doing so well either). Erstwhile arch-rival B. Dalton is down to just a handful of shops. It is a business model that has outlived its utility.

Pity. I like moderately sized bookstores. I bought my last book in one. But the future is not bright.

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