Last night, Julie and I went to our local Barnes and Noble to look at books and the latest offerings of Nook devices. My Nook is a first generation reader and because tech companies want you to always have the newest, they stopped updating the software on my old Nook, so it crashes when it goes into sleep mode — which means I have to reboot it every time I let it sit idle. Annoying. My birthday is coming up in a little over a week, so I said to Julie, “Instead of a bunch of gifts, how ’bout everyone in the family just throw in some cash for a new Nook. I don’t really need anything, and plus most of us are broke these days, so let’s just have fun at the party and not have people worry over what to get me.”
While at the store, I was talking to the store manager (who was answering questions about the current lineup of Nooks). He said something I found astonishing: independent bookstores are coming back. B&N and Borders were like the Blockbuster Video stores for the book business. Their “Lower prices; more locations” model pushed the only other bookstore in Walnut Creek out of business, and now that Amazon has such a large share of the book business these days, I just figured it was only a matter of time before B&N shuttered all their stores and focused on their online business. However, it seems people like book browsing in a brick and mortar store, so not only is B&N doing better in terms of sales (not great, mind you), but independent bookstores are also thriving in some areas of the country. Also, digital book buying has flattened. People use their iPads for things other than reading books and magazines. Nook readers, however, generally do read books and magazines on their readers and often ignore the other features that are available on most smart phones. But overall, the trend is that e-books are starting to plateau. Now, all that can change, but for now, the state of the book publishing business is still skewed toward “print books.”
After we finished talking to the manager, I went over to browse CDs (yeah, CDs) at B&N’s music and DVD section, and in the $4.99 bin were a bunch of CDs I had only had on vinyl. I figured at $4.99 a pop, it was a pretty good deal for new CDs of albums I already knew were good. So what did I get?
I don’t know why I never bought the CD version of the record. It’s a solid album from Foreigner — with “Side 1” being better than “Side 2.” The “bonus” on this CD are some acoustic versions of two songs (“Juke Box Hero,” and “Waiting For a Girl Like You”) which showcase Lou Gramm’s voice before it got shot. Also, fun fact: Thomas “She Blinded Me With Science” Dolby played the synthesizer on “Urgent.” He’s listed on the album credits as “Tom Dolby.”
Another one where I have the LP, but never bought the CD. Lots of great songs on this one, too. Another fun fact: Mick Jones from Foreigner was brought in as a producer and, according to Sammy Hagar, really helped him with his vocals on the record. Check out “Dreams” for how far his vocal range was pushed.
This one I never had the actual LP. I had a compilation CD with “Kool Thing” on it and have always loved that song. I figured for $4.99, it was worth getting the entire album since I’m reasonably sure that in 1990 bands weren’t in the habit of churning out albums that had only one or two good songs on them — especially Sonic Youth. Oh, and one more fun fact: This album was in no way associated with Thomas Dolby, Mick Jones, or Van Halen.
While the cashier was totaling up my purchases (a little over $16 for three new CDs!), she mentioned that “Goo” was a great album. I quipped, “Well, I might as well get the CDs now, since that format is going the way of the dinosaurs.” The response from this 19 or 20 year old? “Hey, I still listen to cassettes.”
I asked if she has a cassette recorder, and she said she did and often records songs off the radio. I had to check my phone to see what year it was.
“Wait. You can still buy blank cassette tapes?” I asked.
“Yeah. At Half-Price Books they sell them for fifty cents.” she said, and then added, “A lot of bands I’m into record their songs on cassette and pass them around to their fans. Most of the people I know have boom boxes, so we just play them on those. I also have a cassette player in my car.”
I was stunned. What the hell was going on? Taping songs off the radio? Cassette players in cars? Boom boxes? In this age when you can get music pretty much for free, why on earth would anyone bother with cassettes — especially late teens or young twentysomethings? I thought, well, the bands this person likes were described as punk bands, and I just figured that those bands wanted to be underground — and a way to do so was to shun the Internet and go low tech. It reinforces that exclusivity in music that I used to crave at that age — but rarely got.
So here we are in 2014: independent bookstores starting to thrive and “the kids” turning to cassettes and vinyl as a preferred music format.
I guess my dream in my late 20s of starting a book and record store isn’t as dead as I thought it was.