Borders and Licorice Pizza

I look at Borders, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today, the same way I look at Licorice Pizza, a favorite music store of the 1970s and 1980s. Both were fun places to shop at, but both fell victim to the economy and changing times.

Music stores, like bookstores, were social spots as well as places to explore for new music. When I was a teenager, there was a Licorice Pizza near our high school. I would see my classmates shopping there, and some of the older kids worked there. Vinyl records (hence the name, Licorice Pizza) were the primary form of music back in the 1970s. Cassettes were primarily for best-selling artists, and 8 tracks were just uncool. If you wanted the latest music, you shopped for vinyl. And if you were really adventureous, especially if you wanted cutting edge punk and rap they wouldn’t play on the radio, you went to the imports section.

Shopping for music was a serendipitous affair. I would flip through stacks of records and ask the person next to me, “Is this good?” If I still wasn’t sure, I could ask the guy behind the counter to play an album for me. Shopping for music in the 1970s and 1980s was inefficient and fun.

Today, I buy most of my music as MP3s from Amazon and iTunes. If I want a physical CD, I would go to Best Buy or Costco. There are no music stores in our area. Sure, I miss the charm of stores like Licorice Pizza, but I prefer being able to carry hundreds of my favorite songs on my iPod.

Will the same thing happen to bookstores?

Despite the advances of eBooks, I still don’t see them replacing printing books anytime soon. eBooks still have limitations in readability, formatting, and battery life, and nothing can match the ease of use and longevity of a printed book. eBook technology is continuing to improve, and I can see it becoming the preferred choice for textbooks, and “read once” throwaway fiction. Avid readers may enjoy loading up a dozen of their favorite books and magazines on their eReader before going on vacation or a business trip. Barnes and Noble and other booksellers may find success integrating eBooks with traditional paper books. Just as places still sell vinyl records today, there will be a place for both paper and digital books. The publishing industry is changing, and some bookstores might wind up becoming like Licorice Pizza — a pleasant memory of the past.