One more Little Engine That Could, Can’t. Thinking points, discussion points

Borders bookstores, one of only two giants in the U.S. bookselling industry, bids a fond farewell this month. Within weeks their shops will be empty shells and Borders will be no more. It’s as dramatic an indication of industry change as you can imagine.

Newspapers and magazines as time-tested as Gourmet, and as necessary as city dailies, are going under at an alarming rate.

Record labels continue to consolidate and redefine as best they can, but still find themselves called “hopelessly out-of-touch” and “anachronistic.”

Industries do die, or at least wither to unrecognizable proportions. It happens.

Some of that is seen (usually much later) as necessary to growth and change overall. What happened to calligraphers and copyists when the printing press came in? What happened to cobblers when shoes were first mass-produced? What happened to horsebreeding when the automobile became omnipresent?

(And related industries like blacksmiths, saddle-makers, and buggy and wagon builders are always sucked under by the tide, as well….  Or in the first example above, just imagine the trouble you’d have finding true parchment and a quill pen today. More recently, we’ve lost all but a few typesetters and letterpress printers to the computer. Etc., etc.)

No, there are no answers, but so many related questions, that I thought I’d wonder out loud about some of them today.

We have decided that as a general rule, we don’t want to pay for what these folks are selling.

We don’t want to pay for finely crafted fiction or well-research and developed non-fiction, or for the folks who will hunt it down and present it to us;

We don’t want to pay for well-written editorial or reportage;

We don’t want to pay for the creative genius and complex production logistics in a finished piece of music.

What’s going on? We’re collectively choosing to push the value of all the things these folks used to sell, down towards zero.

But are these occupations and industries—booksellers, publishers, and quality book-writers, print media like mags and rags, record labels to filter through the junk, and find, develop, and distribute the gems—really no longer relevant?

*Are* they the same as scribes, shoemakers, and saddlers, or are we consumers making big mistakes now, trading our own time and energy for the efforts of experts?

Are we devaluing Experience for very temporary expedience?

Of course, you know that we will still make exceptions. Or, we will still make exceptions some of the time.

Some folks still go to bookstores for “real” books, still read newspapers, still pay for music, etc. Almost all of us do so at some times, even those who are most bitten by the “free” bug.

To which, when I put on my MCE-hat, I say: Then be the exception! But only a total Pollyanna would fail to see that this is becoming a very tricky target to hit indeed.

I’m really thinking hard about these changes and very open to your thoughts—on saving industries (maybe this is happening in your own industry, too?), or moving on.

If you’ve got a crystal ball, I’d love for you to look into it today. Can anything be done to stop these trains? Should anything be done?

Much later, will these changes make perfect sense? Or will we wish we hadn’t given up on the booksellers, the record labels, the newspapers and the like, who used to help us keep order in our lives by picking and selling only the fruits that were ripe?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or use this post to start discussions of your own today—you can link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.. The more crystal balls, the better!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson