Natural Search Blog


The Internet is Killing Independent Bookstores

In all the good done by the internet and technological innovation, it’s easy to sometimes overlook that some changes haven’t been for the better. On Monday, the news everywhere was mentioning the odd and sensational story of the bookstore owner in Kansas City, Missouri, who has started burning books on his doorstep to dramatize his perspective that people are not reading books nearly as much anymore. While I’m afraid his belief that people are reading less is faulty, his observation of the trend in people shopping less at stores like his is correct. I’ve personally witnessed the closing of hundreds of indie bookstores all across America, and there’s no question that the rare book shops and independent book dealers have been under siege and endangered as a species for about ten years. The internet has been killing them.

Book Burning at Prospero's Books in Kansas City, Missouri
Burning book – photo used by express permission
of the photographer at Prospero’s Books.

There are worse crimes than burning books,
one is not reading them. ~
Joseph Brodskey

A few weeks ago, I was in New York attending the Search Engine Strategies Conference, and I took a few minutes to walk a few blocks south to the grand old Gotham Book Mart to get a friend back home a birthday present. I knew that the Gotham had moved a couple of blocks over in 2004 from its original home on West 47th (in Manhattan’s famous “Diamond Way”), to East 46th. The Gotham was always a place that gave me the warm fuzzies — it’s been around since the 1920s and was the sort of commercial home to one of my favorite author/illustrators, Edward Gorey, and it was a long-running meeting place for the Finnegans Wake Society and the James Joyce Society. Every spring, I tried to make a point of visiting their annual exhibit of rare old Goreyanna books and illustrations, and I’d typically be enchanted into buying something.

Wise Men Shop Here Chains Bar the Wonderful old Gotham Book Mart doorway
“Wise Men Fish Here”, sign over Gotham Book Mart (Left)
Chained door with author’s reflection (Right)

The shop was famed in the book world for its appreciation of humor with its “Wise Men Fish Here” sign above the door, its love of books, and its support of book collectors. It was with extreme shock that I found the Gotham locked up tight and the lights out. There was a terribly tragic air about it, because there were a number of cute stuffed Gorey characters still sitting in the window in their little rocking chairs. With a sinking feeling in my heart, I knew that store was dead, and that this was the end of an era.

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