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Borders Closings Are Another Step Towards Community Isolation

In our technology dominated lives, the bookstore is one of the few places where there is a sense of community and interpersonal interaction, where people with a shared passion can meet.
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Just like video killed the radio star, it looks as though Kindle and Nook are killing the bookstore. Booklovers had hoped for a storybook ending for Borders, but the tragic final chapter has come.

Last month, Borders Group, Inc., the nation's second largest bookstore chain behind Barnes and Noble, announced that it was canceling an upcoming bankruptcy auction and would liquidate and close its remaining 399 stores for good by the end of September.

This isn't just a hit for the book industry and authors; it's a blow for bookstore lovers. Borders had a 10.7% share of the U.S. retail book market, according to

In our technology dominated lives, the bookstore is one of the few places where there is a sense of community and interpersonal interaction, where people with a shared passion can meet. People can browse bookshelves and magazines at their own leisurely pace without feeling pressure to buy. Friends, families, and blind dates can get together for a leisurely cup of coffee. Book signings, author readings, poetry readings, writing workshops, children's events, book clubs, writing groups, knitting clubs, game nights, and career networking groups, and Harry Potter midnight book parties, among other bookstore events, give constant life to these stores. Bookstores are more of a cultural and social center than they are a place to buy books. Unlike public libraries, they are a place where people are encouraged to talk while browsing books. While the megabookstores don't have the personal charm and individualized customer service of the small, independent bookstore, they still offer the physical experience of book browsing.

It would be nice to see a rebirth of Independent Bookstores like Robin's Bookstore in Philadelphia, Stacey's Bookstore in San Francisco, Globe Corner Bookstore in Harvard Square, and Jay's Book Stall in Pittsburgh, which all closed down in recent years. The small independent bookstore was an industry that was crushed by the megastore chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble, however, their re-emergence isn't likely to occur due to technology.

No doubt, the book industry will adapt and survive. Amazon is now selling more e-books than paper-based books. Barnes and Noble has adapted fairly well to the changing book technology marketplace. As more readers look to ebooks, NOOK, IPad,, and Kindle to buy books, book publishers will sell their work electronically. However, physical bookstore chains are likely to go the way of Blockbuster, which was severely effected by the online video store Netflix, and record stores, which succumbed to digital downloading of music.

As Josh Sanburn of TIME Magazine noted, Borders made a series of bad business decisions that led to its demise, including its outsourcing of its online bookselling to Amazon, its failure to develop an e-reader competitor to Kindle and NOOK, its overexpansion to too many stores, and its overinvestment in music sales.

Other factors include the change in reading habits. As Columnist Mitch Albom wrote in the July 17, 2011 Detroit Free Press, "The problem is people don't love books the way they once did, nor do they read them the same way. Cheaper electronic versions undermine the need for shelf-space. Younger audiences who haven't grown up with rainy afternoons spent inside book pages, don't snap us the latest great read-unless there's a certain vampire or wizard attached....And the pressure for profits to keep the stock price high runs diametrically opposite to the slow, meandering, long-term customer approach that used to define bookstores."

Whatever the cause of the demise of Borders and other bookstores, the sociological impact on the United States will be profound.

In 2000, Harvard Sociology Professor Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone, an influential book that described how Americans had become disconnected from friends, families, neighbors, and communities due to factors such as suburban life, television, and computers. This decrease in personal interaction has led to social decay in society.

The closing of a major bookstore chain like Borders is just another step towards personal isolation and the loss of community. Having a virtual community online just isn't the same as having a popular physical meeting place where people can get together. By losing another bookstore, we lose, and the computers win.

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