Thursday, 7 July 2011


“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!” – William Shakespeare

I visited Borders Bookstore in Melbourne Central today as it was its last day before it closed down. This is only one of the 123 Borders and Angus and Robertson bookstores that are closing down across Australia, with a loss of more than 1,800 jobs. They were all part of the REDgroup Retail chain, which is winding up its physical book retailing outlets, as no buyer was found for the bookstores. The administrators, however, have secured a deal to sell their online businesses. This is a situation that seems to be reflecting worldwide trends and is causing great apprehension amongst retailers of all kinds who rely on shopfront sales. Yet another well-known Melbourne bookstore, “Reader’s Feast” closed after operating in the City for the last 20 years.

I always enjoyed visiting and shopping in both Borders and Reader’s Feast, especially the latter. This bookshop is down an escalator on the corner of Bourke Street and Swanston Street in the heart of the City of Melbourne. One could go downstairs and spend many happy hours browsing, looking, sampling and of course buying one’s favourite books. There is something special about a bookshop, especially when it is a large one where they have a great selection of all sorts of books, like this one. One can find treasures that one wasn’t aware existed, be absorbed by something unlikely, and discover odd, engaging books that one wouldn’t even bother clicking on to obtain more information online.

There is something about the ambience of a bookshop that is immediately appealing. The smell of the printed paper, the quietness, the rows of book cases, the other customers – people of the same ilk… But most of all the books! Shelf after shelf of delights of all sorts, fiction and non-fiction, weighty tomes of philosophy, copiously illustrated natural history, handsomely bound literature, colourful paperbacks, children’s books, delightful travel books, cookbooks, science fiction, history, romance, computer books, music books, art, craft, geography, science, biology, linguistics, gardening, photography and the list goes one and on!

Now don’t get me wrong, if you have been reading this blog, you’ll know I am a little bit of a technophile. I love the smart phones and the iPod, computers and new software, the web, the iPad and therefore eBooks. It is so immensely convenient to have hundreds of books in a single iPad, not to mention the convenience of buying a new book or magazine anywhere at any time through the web bookstores online. This is the key to so many people switching to the electronic versions of books and magazines. Technology is changing our lives in countless ways, and this is just another one of these. Our lives are changing faster and faster as advances in technology, electronics, medicine, science, biology are constantly surging ahead at lightning speed.

Is it any surprise then that bookshops are struggling to maintain their businesses running profitably? They do less business and they have to compromise themselves and try and sell other things too, like DVDs and CDs, homewares, gifts, even coffee and sandwiches! That is, unless they also have an ebookshop – the success of Amazon as a business vouches for this. We are flocking to the web for all sorts of things because it is easy to do so. We are creatures of comfort and convenience and we can shop expediently and at our leisure online. Are all sorts of shops now on their way out? I know that DVD hiring shops are becoming less and less common. The ease of access of entertainment via technology is taking its toll there also.

Somehow, I think the bookshop will survive. And thankfully here in Melbourne we have many small bookshops (especially the second-hand variety) that still flourish. They stay in business because of bibliophiles like me! There is nothing like spending some time in such a place and immersing oneself in the books, wandering around and sampling the treasure trove, like a child taking a package out of a lucky dip. Nothing like sitting down and leafing through a book, revelling in the touch of the pages, the smell of ink and paper.

Vale, Borders! We are witnessing the end of an era. Welcome to the new generation who will look at real books as relics of an age gone by. The same as a generation of children nowadays who even view CDs as a trifle quaint, not to mention those ancient things: Vinyl LPs! In thirty years the world has changed so much, I dread to think what lies ahead. Images of “Fahrenheit 451” spring to mind and they are scary. Will books only be published in electronic form in the future? Will real books be soon relegated to the same fate as vinyl LPs? Appreciated by only a small group of aficionados who search high and low to find them and treat them in an almost worshipful manner once they have them in their possession? Oh, brave new world, indeed!

bibliophile |ˈbiblēəˌfīl| noun
A person who collects or has a great love of books.
bibliophilic |ˌbiblēəˈfilik| adjective
bibliophily |ˌbiblēˈäfəlē| noun
ORIGIN early 19th century: From French, from Greek biblion ‘book’ + philos ‘loving.’


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  2. My favourite bookshops are where there are heaps of good quality second hand books, an espresso machine and comfortable seats to sit in. The Known World Bookshop in Ballarat and the Bookshop on Daylesford Lake are both sublime.

  3. Oh what pity Nic!!!!! I like hanging out in Borders....
    Does that mean you have no big bookstores now??? Just the small used book ones???

  4. How very sad! I love books and dislike reading on a screen or an iPad. I don't really enjoy reading unless it's form a real book or magazine that I can leaf through. I think there are many people like that will assure that paper books keep on getting published.