The Evolution of The Novel – Part 1 – How We Buy Our Books



Book Display

I am sure everyone has seen a display like this one before, a bunch of books piled on and around a display shelf right in the front of a store designed to lure the shopper over to the vast selection, in this case of Halloween themed books. This kind of display is designed to feed our impulses, to attract our eyes to the multitudes of colors, styles and shapes. It is designed, of course, to make us buy more books!

Books have been around for centuries and the way we buy our books continues to evolve. For the last several decades we have mostly bought our books from displays like the one pictured above. This used to mean going to an independently owned store, or mom and pop bookstore. Ah, the good ole days. Then came the birth of the superstore. What started out with grocery stores, electronics chains and department stores eventually found its way to the bookstore, and that’s when selling books went corporate.



Barnes and Noble has been around since the late 1800’s, but in the 1970’s it expanded nationally and began growing the larger versions of their stores like you see above. They also purchased mall book chain B. Dalton and had some steady competition from rival chain Borders, that is until Borders closed its doors for good recently. The growth of these national chains forced the majority of independent booksellers to close their doors. After all, how could the average mom and pop store compete with these massive stores that had rows and rows of books from every different genre? It was Disneyland for book lovers or the book equivalent of a Tower Records Mega-store, but just like music, there was a massive shift coming.

The Internet.

The end of the 90’s began a dramatic shift in the way the majority of Americans and people all over the world got their entertainment. It was only a matter of time before this technology would effect the world of literature. In 1994, a small online bookseller named Amazon debuted in the marketplace and things would never be the same. Before long Amazon was the largest bookseller in the world. In 2004, the first digital E-reader debuted. The Sony machine was short lived. but in 2007 Amazon launched the Kindle, to be followed two years later by the Nook from Barnes and Noble. Suddenly there was a completely new way to read your favorite novels.


The Kindle vs. the Nook: This was a battle that most people knew Amazon would eventually win and they pretty much have. However, the E-reader has already evolved beyond proprietary devices such as Nook and Kindle. Both options are available as Apps for more popular tablets like the Apple Ipad or Samsung Galaxy Tab, as well as just about any smart phone. For the first five years of their existence it looked like the ability to take your entire literary library with you in the palm of your hand would spell the end of the traditional printed book.

Then again, maybe not.

Up next – part two of my series on the evolution of the novel – Will Print Survive?

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