Lucy and Ethel on the assembly line at the chocolate candy factory – who could forget that episode? The chocolates parade down the line and the ladies are supposed to cover each in paper and place it back on the line so it can drop into a bucket ready for selling.
But the line suddenly increases in speed, and the chocolates start to race past faster than Lucy and Ethel can deal with them.Desperate to keep their jobs, they try to avoid the disaster of uncovered chocolates pouring off the end of the line, by filling their clothing and their mouths with candy. Here’s a clip on Youtube in case you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Actually, what I’m really talking about isn’t Lucy and Ethel, it’s bookstores – the kind with books made from paper, with walls of shelves, with that familiar blend of scents: books mingled with book lovers, and with owners who know their stock better than most of us know the books on the shelves in our homes.
From my reading of recent tweets and news sites, there’s been a notable increase in the number of these stores that are closing, and the situation’s starting to remind me of Lucy’s assembly line – you can’t possibly buy traditional books fast enough to save all the bookstores. And you especially can’t when there are so many ways to get at your reading material.
For instance, e-books are having a huge impact on all the bricks and mortar stores. One source has figures for the second quarter of 2010 showing that during that time, $90 million worth of e-books were purchased in the US alone, and most of those by first-time buyers. When you consider how much less you usually pay for the e-book version of an author’s work, that’s a lot of books.
And how many of us order our traditional books from online sellers? More and more of us. For a lot of very good reasons, right? Or which of us borrow most of our books from the library? Or from friends?
In a recent interview, Stephen King said that we shouldn’t worry about the delivery mechanism for our reading – that the content is what matters – so who cares how a “book” gets into the hand of a reader. I tend to agree with him.
But every time I see a bookstore go under, my heart rate goes up a little and I understand the panic that Lucy and Ethel feel as they try to save some of the chocolates, and as they watch the others slip by, one by one.