By Ashley Gerling
On May 30, 2014 Chapters former flagship store at John and Richmond Streets will close its doors to the public, making it the sixth in a chain of bookstore closures in the GTA this year alone. This “Book-bonic Plague” has already claimed the lives of Toronto landmarks including Book City in the Annex, the World’s Biggest Bookstore, the Cookbook Store in Yorkville, and Steven Temple Books, as well as the Chapters Indigo location at Runnymede.
The closure of bookstores across Canada is nothing new, as less than 100 independent booksellers and bookstores remain across Canada as more people purchase their literature online and in the form of e-books. These store closures come in the wake of an announcement by online retail giant Amazon – whose e-book sales alone are estimated to be between $265 to 530 million per year (Forbes) – that the company will be expanding to include musical instruments and wireless products in its catalogue.
Though research from Publisher’s Weekly and other sources suggest that e-book sales are slowing, the popularity and convenience of online shopping continue to place a strain on booksellers across Canada. This begs the question: will print culture survive in the age of technology? A whole-hearted “YES!” is my response, as e-book sales indicate that people continue to seek out books in whatever form they can find them.
However, I would also argue that e-books are disposable, easy to overlook amongst the dizzying clutter of files and folders on any device, and often inaccessible to those without access to the internet or who do not have a credit card or PayPal account. Printed books, on the other hand, remain accessible to all whether in a bookstore or library, and can be passed from hand to hand in a trail of words. Books demand to be acknowledged, to be picked up and leafed through. They require space on a shelf, and the physical investment of mind and body which is so rare in our internet age.
The Roman philosopher Cicero – who did more for print culture than Amazon or any other online retailer will ever do for the written word – said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” There will always be a need for books and thus a need for bookstores. Though large shops are closing down, smaller stores – including those in the Book City and Chapters families – remain open. Perhaps a return to the small, localized book shop is on the horizon. Either way, books are here to stay.