Byrne, Bookstores, and Black Friday

Do you miss bookstores?

I do. In a letter to subscribers announcing the eBook availability of How Music Works, David Byrne shares his conflicted feelings about the digital edition:

I like eBooks. I like physical books, too. It’s sad to watch bookstores disappear as more and more folks buy their books online or read eBooks and rarely visit a bookstore. What will be lost and what have we gained in this process?

Most independent booksellers are long gone, and my local Borders closed two summers ago.  You could see it coming. Just like the record stores and camera shops.  There was a sense of impending doom as convenience, price, and ubiquitous information trumped personal service and customer loyalty.

Competition from online services has retailers starting their Black Friday sales earlier each year. Now, as protests mount over Black Friday oozing into our Thanksgiving celebrations, you begin to think about the various factions and their motivations: Mass-retailers, mom & pop shops, store employees, online services, and consumers.

Consumers, of course, just want the best deal.  Byrne wonders whether the best deal will be worth the final price. Back to eBooks:

We’ve definitely gained convenience—as we did with MP3s. I can carry hundreds of eBooks on my device, as well as newspapers and some magazines. I like the elimination of clutter (or at least physical clutter—there is still plenty of virtual clutter in my life). I like that fewer trees are being sacrificed for paper, but I sense this might be (more than?) offset by the massive amounts of power needed to keep the server farms that hold all our info and support the digital universe going all around the globe.

I like that I can highlight sentences in an eBook and then they appear on a web page so my “note taking” is made very easy. I read a lot of nonfiction, so highlighting is part of the fun, and this little bit of technology makes it easier. Same with the built-in dictionaries—I am the product of a Baltimore public school, and though I have continued my education in many ways there are still words I come across that I don’t know, so the built in dictionaries are a godsend.

Books, when well made and beautifully designed, are lovely to hold and behold. There is pleasure in reading a well designed book. A little bit of beauty is added to one’s life—something that can’t be measured in terms of pure information.

I also have a funny feeling that, like much of our world that is disappearing onto servers and clouds, eBooks will become ephemeral. I have a sneaking feeling that like lost languages and manuscripts, most digital information will be lost to random glitches and changing formats. Much of our world will become unretrievable—like the wooden houses, music, and knowledge of our ancient predecessors. I have a few physical books that are 100 years old. Will we be able to read our eBooks in 100 years? Really?

We’re sort of making our whole culture and civilization ephemeral—or more ephemeral than ever—with our rush to digitize.

Lastly, as soon as eBooks can be hacked and distributed for free that industry will really be on its knees—just like the music biz.

~ David Byrne


You can purchase a signed hardcover edition of How Music Works from the McSweeney’s store for $50.

The iBooks version (for iPad and iPhone) is available on iTunes.

The B&N version works on the Color Nook device.

The enhanced version for sale on Amazon will ONLY work on the Kindle app for iPad and iPhone.

Note: Links to iTunes and Amazon are affiliate links.

photo: David D’Agostino