Paper Books

February 15, 2015

Sad news this month with the announcement of the closure of Borderland, a local science-fiction and fantasy books and local community landmark. Ownership cited San Francisco’s recent vote to increase minimum wage as the reason for closing, a measure voted in last November that will increase minimum wage to $15 by July 2018.

This is of course a major shame, but unfortunately what’s probably an unavoidable one as we march toward the supremacy of the online store. Books are especially vulnerable with the price printed on their label being essentially the maximum that a seller can set, but with online retailors regularly selling at cost far below the sticker price. The linked article seems to suggest that things may have been in rough shape already with even the owner paying himself a mere $28,000 in 2014, and with the other employees presumably making less than $15/hour. And in the Bay Area no less.

Paper books are a pain point for me. On one hand I love them and how they represent a permanent physical copy of works that I love. On the other, they’re wholly impractical in the modern world. Digital version of the same book are faster to read, easier to carry, and with the advent of retina displays are now just as satisfying typographically. They also don’t eat space in my tiny San Francisco apartment. I currently compromise by either reading digital copies of books or getting them from the library, and buying a copy of the best ones. However, those represent a comparatively small number of paper purchases, especially when compared with the past where families would own half a dozen bookshelves worth of volumes, the purchase of which helped fuel the local book-vending economy.

I’ll miss the brick and mortars stores dearly. Finding books by recommendation and positive review online may be the best way to find new material to read, but it won’t replace the serendipitous find of a particularly intriguing book that was stumbled across while browsing in the real-world. I grew up exploring amazing physical spaces in every city I visited to find the next great thing to read; the next generation may have to settle for doing the same from within the rigid confines of the Apple App Store.

Addendum — For anyone not from San Francisco, you may still recognize Borderland books if you’ve seen the new documentary on Aaron Swartz “the Internet’s Own Boy.” At least a few of the promotion images of Aaron were shot in the store.

Paper Books was published on February 15, 2015.

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