January 03, 2007

More on disappearing books and the vanishing American independent bookstore

Via my father, this latest from The New York Times (use Bug Me Not if necessary), that Micawber Books in Princeton, NJ is closing its doors after more than 25 years. Some cherce passages from the article, emphases mine:
Logan Fox can’t quite pinpoint the moment when movies and television shows replaced books as the cultural topics people liked to talk about over dinner, at cocktail parties, at work. He does know that at Micawber Books, his 26-year-old independent bookstore here that is to close for good in March, his own employees prefer to come in every morning and gossip about “Survivor” or “that fashion reality show” whose title he can’t quite place.

“It kills me,” Mr. Fox, 53, said over coffee on Friday afternoon, shaking his head. “The amount of time spent discussing culturally iconic shows has superseded anything in the way of books that I can detect. Discussing books is very much one on one. It just hurts me.”

Mr. Fox is bracing himself for an emotionally wrenching few months. In December Micawber announced that it would close, after years of fighting not only the tyranny of other media but also the steady encroachment of big-box retail competitors and the Internet. ...

But beyond those factors, Mr. Fox said, he blames a change in American culture, in the quickening pace of people’s lives, in the shrinking willingness to linger. During the 1980s, in the store’s early days, customers would come in and stay all afternoon, carefully inspecting the books that were packed tightly together, spine to spine.

No longer. “The driving force of all of this is the acceleration of our culture,” Mr. Fox said. “The old days of browsing, the old days of a person coming in for three or four hours on a Saturday and slowly meandering, making a small pile of books, being very selective, coming away with six or seven gems they wanted, are pretty much over. If you go to the Strand or to Micawber Books today, it’s a whole different gear, where society wants satisfaction and fulfillment now.”

The other crisis for independent booksellers, Mr. Fox said, is the current state of publishing. The job of building writers’ reputations and nurturing them has fallen to agents, he said. Publishers are concerned only with the bottom line, he added, looking for the home run instead of the single.

And there is the question of quality. Though Micawber carries a few, Mr. Fox laments the rapid growth of the celebrity cookbook genre. Children’s books, in particular, are driven by marketability instead of creativity, said Bobbie Fishman, the children’s books buyer at Micawber. “It’s either pirates, wizards, one of a series, or written by Katie Couric,” she said. ...

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