Monday, September 19, 2011

You’ve Got Mail…and the bookstore

images Recently my husband and I sat down to watch You’ve Got Mail. Yes my husband is the kind of man who will watch a romantic comedy with his wife. But that’s beside the point. So we settled in and thoroughly enjoyed seeing Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together again. Firstly, I’m not here to talk about the chemistry between Tom and Meg (there’s lots), or the way they used the Internet 13 years ago, yes I said 13 years ago. Rather, while watching this movie, I realized that it has much to say about the current state of the book industry. 

You’ve Got Mail gives us Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) who owns The Shop Around the Corner, a children’s independent bookstore. Joe Fox (Hanks) is part of the Fox family that own Fox Bookstore a chain of mega bookstores that seduce people with their “square footage, and our discounts, and our deep armchairs, and…Our cappuccino.” Sound familiar? Fox Books opens around the corner from Kathleen’s store and it soon becomes evident that she must close her doors. 

This movie highlights what we as consumers saw when Borders and the like enticed people with their square footage, discounts, deep armchairs and coffee. We watched as the humble independent bookstore bowed to the mega store chain and slowly closed their doors. 13 years later we are watching the mega stores crumble around us as they now bow to an even greater giant: online book stores and the e-book. How so much has changed in 13 years. 

What breaks my heart though is that when I enter a shopping center in my city, I cannot find a bookstore. Why? There is none. I can buy books from Target, Big W or K-Mart but lets face it – the range is limited. I can no longer take great pleasure in leisurely roaming around the bookstore and wondering where the next book might take me. 

What would Kathleen and Joe be doing now that both their shops have closed?

Please note, my experiences with the rise and fall of the bookstore are the evidence of what I have seen in Australia.


  1. I loved that movie when I watched it 13 years ago. It might be worth worth watching it again, after all the time has passed. I agree with your comments. I enjoy nothing more than browsing bookshops, but have to admit that the last several purchases I've made have been online. Bookshops give their products a short shelf life, as I know from experience, so in all fairness, much as I love them, I can also understand why they're under the pump.

  2. Me too Paula, my purchases have all been online lately. But that is also because I'm living in the sticks again, and there wasn't any bookstore here to begin with :) I guess I don't feel so disadvantaged knowing my favourite bookstores in the city aren't there anymore anyway!

    So from what you're saying Paula, perhaps the move to online shopping for books may actually increase sales for authors? That would be a definite benefit, if that is the case! And I guess the reality is, as nice as walking through a bookstore is, the ability to hunt down pretty much any book in the world online, at any time of day, is a wonderful convenience, which I'm not sorry to have.

  3. I think it might work out to be beneficial for authors.
    Somebody would recommend a book I liked the sound of, I'd check out the local bookshops, who'd tell me, "Sorry, we don't have it." Now I just assume that they won't and don't waste my time asking.
    Bookshops are probably good for having a browse in to see if anything takes my fancy, but definitely not when I'm searching for something specific.