I stopped buying compact disks the day I bought my iPod in the mid-2000s. I was never interested in the bulky plastic jewel cases that clutter up apartments, and my favorite CDs always sport deep scratches, making them nearly unlistenable. Sure, sometimes the cover art is interesting, but it's not crucial to the music.
Books? Books are a different story.
I am a book fanatic. I will never give up my physical obsession for a digital reader. I hoard books. I dog-ear pages. I take margin notes in pencil. I stack books on my shelves as trophies of my intellectualism. I like the way they look and smell. I like the heft of my purse when a paperback novel is tucked inside.
I recognize I am increasingly isolated in this love, but I didn't expect Hayley Wright, a vibrant blond, avid paddleboarder and owner of Between the Covers Book Store, to dismiss my preference for physical books to e-readers as antiquated.
"Get on a plane and see how many books you actually see," she said. "I'm a tech nerd," she added, "so I get it. Why would the book industry be anything different than what happened to music stores?"
Wright has weathered the decline in readership of physical books since 2007, when she and her husband bought a restored historic house on Delaware Avenue at Bond Street and moved in Between the Covers. She watched the Camalli Book Company, a small bookshop in the Westside Village Shopping Center, close in August 2011. She also watched her customers evaporate because of e-reader and e-book sales.
"I really noticed it in the last quarter of 2012," she explained. "I was down 20 percent, and the first quarter of 2013 I was down 35 percent. I considered turning it into a coffee shop. But," she added defiantly, "I opened a bookstore because I love books."
Wright tried to keep up with the mushrooming interest in digital books; last year she linked an online store to her website. But it wasn't enough.
"Devices like the iPad are hardwired to use the iBooks website, and the Kindle is hardwired to use Amazon," Wright explained. Her online store, she said, "was a couple extra steps, so people wouldn't do it."
Unfortunately, the declining interest in quaint corner bookstores—not to mention bookstores of all sizes—is bringing Between the Covers' run to an end. Wright plans to close the shop June 1.
As Between the Covers prepares to shut its doors, other local independent bookshops like Dudley's are struggling to stay afloat. In response to the book-buying decline, Dudley's has taken a neo-Luddite approach, adding a café that sells beer and wine, creating an area for group meetings, and offering live music.
"Coming into Dudley's is like going back in time," owner Rebecca Singer said. "We don't have a computerized inventory and we don't plan on having a computerized inventory. We have to go look for the book, but people love that. They love the pacing in here."
Dudley's also benefits from a gaggle of volunteers that help to keep the shop running, including former owner Terri Cumbie, who opened the store in 2008.
"We need independent bookstores," Cumbie asserted. "Otherwise, big publishers will decide what we read. It's independent bookstores who find all of those great little books."
As Dudley's struggles on, the shelves at Between the Covers are thinning. Wright is attempting to clear out the inventory—furniture and all—and said she will continue to discount prices until the shop closes.
"It will be interesting to see what happens in the book world outside of this rapidly declining bookstore," Wright said as she peered out the oversized windows onto sunny Delaware Avenue. "Meanwhile, I'll be going to Sisters to buy my books" at independent seller Paulina Springs Books.
Support local bookstores!
Bookmark, 228 NE Greenwood Ave.
Dudley's BookShop Café, 135 NW Minnesota Ave.
The Kilns Bookstore, 550 NW Industrial Way, #44
Open Book, 155 NE Greenwood Ave.
Paulina Springs Books, 252 W Hood Ave., Sisters & 422 SW 6th St., Redmond.
Pegasus Books, 105 NW Minnesota Ave.
Shelf Life, 249 NW 6th St. Redmond.