We lived in Beaumont, TX for one year. It was the early 1970s, I was fresh out of college, getting my feet wet in the work world. I was a youth minister, but really preparing for my preaching years. Every week, (sometimes more than once a week), I would drive to a small bookstore. These days, we would call it an “independent bookstore.” It was a Christian bookstore – i.e., books that dealt with faith, and church, and preaching… The woman who owned the bookstore knew her books, and kept up with the new releases. I mean, she knew what was in these books, what they dealt with… I got to know this woman. She was “middle-aged,” and smart. I was young, hungry to learn. She was not a “clerk,” she was a teacher. When I resigned, and readied to leave Beaumont, she was one of the first I told.
I loved that bookstore – and her wise counsel.
I could tell other such stories. I am a serious Nero Wolfe fan. I have every volume of the Rex-Stout-written volumes, and re-read the entire corpus every few years. In Snyder Plaza in University Park, there used to be a Mystery Bookstore. The woman who owned it (at least, I assume she owned it), tried to tell me that the newer Nero Wolfe mysteries, written by Robert Goldlborough with the approval of the Rex Stout estate, were worthy of my time. I did not warm up to them, though I appreciated her recommendations.
But now… as much as I love the customer reviews on Amazon (our blogging colleague Bob Morris has written many, many of them), they do not quite mean as much as those conversations with that Beaumont bookstore owner meant to me.
And now, a few “fulfillment center” workers, and lines of code getting me my Kindle App versions of books, have replaced how many countless book-loving bookstore owners across the country?
Call this a snapshot of the modern economy, and one of the reasons why many jobs are disappearing, and others are “less” than they used to be. In recent weeks, we have learned that “temp workers” are rising rapidly in the overall percentage of jobs. Here’s the current national look, from this article:
Workers at temporary-help service agencies accounted for about one-third of U.S. job gains in June.
And, read this from Andrew Sullivan: Temps Are Here to Stay. It has links to more. Here’s a key paragraph.:
In the early 1980s, employment in the “temporary help services” industry—which covers both temp workers and employees of the firms that supply them—stood in the several hundreds of thousands. Now it’s 2.5 million, a seven-fold increase in less than four decades. By 2020, the BLS foresees more than 440,000 new jobs in the sector. In the meantime, the temp craze has expanded from air-conditioned offices to warehouses and construction sites.
And, I recently posted about Farhad Manjoo’s rather alarming look at the ascendancy of Amazon and its threat on all retail. And I am part of the reason – blame me. It so happens that I like this development. Over the weekend, I ordered: numerous household items, ink for my printer, a book or two for my Kindle App, and did so while never leaving my iPad or my easy chair. In other words, I am helping put people out of a job. I called my take on Manjoo’s article: Amazon’s Secret – Make it Easy; Make it Fast; Make it Insanely Convenient. And that is what Amazon has become for me – easy, fast, convenient. (Oh, and money-saving).
But, here is the thing. In our quest for convenience and speed, and in the successful efforts of so many companies’ innovative techniques in giving us “what we want” (Amazon is clearly #1 in this regard), the outcome is this: it takes fewer and fewer people to provide us what we want. (And, if you have not read, Amazon has invested in some robot company that will replace even more fulfillment center workers).
And, so… temp workers are on the rise; automation is on the rise; retail is threatened. And so I ask again, as I have numerous times on this blog, where will the jobs be?
In my first “adult/out of college” job, c 1972, I served as a Youth Minister in Beaumont, Texas. (My wife once killed a mosquito so big that she mailed the dead mosquito to her mother). I quickly discovered a little bookstore. Owned by a woman whose name I have forgotten. I would go in weekly – sometimes more than that. Always spent more than I had budgeted to spend on books. I spent hours in that store. It was definitely locally owned… and the owner was my friend, confidante, counselor. I’ve never hung out at bars, but that book store owner was the best bar tender I ever met…
First, my disclaimer: I have never shopped at Legacy Boos: An Independent Bookstore in Plano. It was just too far from my neck of the woods – in fact, I never even saw it.
But, when I first moved to Dallas in the late 1980’s, I shopped at Taylor’s books. It was in the far north parking lot of Northpark Mall, just across from the two movie screens where I watched JFK, and many other films. Now, both are gone – Taylor’s, and the movie theater.
This could be just another “big box puts local business out of business” story. Legacy was, after all, a “local” store in the era of Barnes & Noble and Borders. And, they built and opened in 2008, just about the worst possible date to start anything, because of the economic conditions
But, it’s not that simple.
Barnes and Noble is also not doing well, and has just been put on the sales block. The final chapter? The world’s best-known bookstore puts itself up for sale:
Browse a while, sip a coffee, buy the shop
IT COULD be the title of an offbeat thriller: “Billionaire Party Boy Versus The Ted Turner of Books”. On August 3rd the board of Barnes & Noble decided to “evaluate strategic alternatives”. In other words, the world’s leading bookstore is for sale. The coming battle for control will involve colourful combatants. It will also have serious implications for the future of publishing.
And Borders has not been healthy for quite some time.
(ON the Barnes & Noble news, Border’s stock was up 3 per cent Wednesday as part of the speculative frenzy – to $1.36. Its penny-stock status reflects its leverage and perceived also-ran status in e-books)
Borders Group Inc. president and Thomas Nelson Publishers chief publishing officer Tami Heim to lead a new brand development and consulting division.
In a scenario that feels like a repeat of the music industry’s woes, digital consumption of books has eroded the traditional distribution channels and revenue streams the traditional publishing industry is built on. It also has created rights disputes for titles written before the advent of e-books and led to declining royalties since e-books are sold cheaper than physical copies, which also has led authors to seek higher royalties on digital sales.
So, this is a story about a lot of things. It is a story of the difficulty of a small, locally owned business trying to survive, and failing, against the behemoths. It is a story about the difficulty of small businesses in general. (Remember, politicians like to tell us that the future of job growth is in small business. Not as easy as it sounds!) And, of course, it is a story about the health of the publishing industry, especially the publishing of physical books.
And I’ll just skip the part about the disappearance of Record/Music stores. Digital, and Barnes & Noble and Borders, pretty much did them in…
And this is the story of the big box stores against the on-line competitors.
And, it is the story of lost jobs, and a lack of new jobs.
Just yesterday, I stopped in at a TCBY. (It’s across the street from where I get my hair cut). Do you remember those? Used to be, it felt like they were on every other corner. Now, they are rare indeed – I only know of one in Dallas that ‘s left, and the woman who served me my White Chocolate Mousse said that she used to make the frozen cakes for all the TCBY shops. Now, that business is basically non-existent.
Back to the book store. Bob Morris e-mailed me on the news of Legacy’s closing with this line:
Tragic. I was in the store recently. Purchased several books for grandchildren. And immediately thought about the film You’ve Got Mail.
Where will people browse for books in the future? It is nice to read a table of contents and first pages on the Amazon site, but it is not the same as sitting with a stack of books and browsing though the pages.
Where will people work when more and more jobs are lost?
I’m feeling unusually and unexpectedly sad at this news – for a book store I never even visited.