On the last day of 2010 we drove 976km from Calgary to Vancouver. Along the way we stopped in Golden, BC for coffee and muffins at Bacchus Books & Cafe, which I totally recommend if you’re there, and it’s got me thinking about the future (if any) of physical-media retail.
But first, a quick sidebar:
No, that’s not a misprint, and it’s actually worse than that; the day before we’d gone 760km from Regina, where my family had gathered for Christmas, to Calgary. We gather because we enjoy each other and we travel because we’re scattered across the country. This time my branch of the family chose on impulse to drive because we could and because the airfares were stupid and because Western Canada is awesomely beautiful, particularly in winter. When I say “awesome” I’m using it in the biblical not teenage sense; Earth may offer one or two better showpieces than the eastern approach at sunrise from Prairies to Rockies but I sure haven’t seen any.
I don’t regret it for a second. Try it sometime. Yeah, you get into a somewhat altered state of consciousness when you spend twenty-plus hours out of 48 in a moving vehicle, but some of us like that.
Anyhow, we’d started super-early and taken the long stage from Calgary to Golden in one hop because some of the passengers were sleeping and the traffic was absent and I managed to zone out and miss the Banff turn-off. So we decided we’d get real-as-opposed-to-Tim-Horton’s coffee and buns by turning off the Trans-Canada into Golden’s downtown. Bacchus looked cool and was right beside a gas station.
They sent us upstairs for coffee and on the counter were two trays of great big muffins, obviously just baked. Those were blackberry; also available, from the last baking run, cherry-and-chocolate. They were superb, the lattes strong and good, the atmosphere friendly, the lady with the muffins happy to chatter with our kids, and the used books facing us attractively eclectic.
This was at 10AM on Fri Dec 31st; another sit-down customer was upstairs with us doing Internet and then there was a steady flow of take-out coffees and buns, and the muffins were going fast. There were ratty old used kids’ books lying around to keep the young ’uns interested, and then the same for grown-ups; used and new both, and I bought one of each:
The Crumb, based only on a leaf-through, is obviously a gem; the faces and colors leap off the page enfolded in a cloud of high-quality-ink perfume. Plus, it comes with a CD containing 21 tracks by musicians most of whom you haven’t heard of, the tunes scratchy and sometimes only barely audible, but digging deeper into the roots of American music than most people realize they run. You can’t imagine how good it sounded as we raced round the big steep high scary snowy bends of the Rogers Pass neighborhood.
As for the Ninja book, it’s from 1970 and is just loaded with nifty pictures, albeit in second-rate black-and-white, of Ninjutsu techniques and artifacts and landmarks and so on. It’s apparently serious and predates the advent of the ninja into pop culture. For $7 used in decent condition who could decline?
And Your Point Is? · Well, at one point in the run-up to Christmas I found myself in a big-box bookstore thinking this place is dead. From where I stood, I could see no books I wanted to buy. And if I had, I would’ve been inclined to get the ePub for my Android. And I could see no incentive to sit down, or in fact to stay; so I left.
The immense size of the joint was predicated at some level on the need to house media-storage devices with a mass amounting to a significant fraction of a kilogram and volume on the order of a brick’s. Which seems wrong for something that can be expressed as a collection of bits.
Bacchus, on the other hand, got my car off the street and my wallet out of my pocket. I’m still a bit frazzled from all those kilometres, so I’ll eschew grand theories and offer a list of things Bacchus offered; some combination may be part of the formula for keeping bookstores open, something I intensely hope to see happen:
A good location with big letters on the outside saying what they sell.
Products unavailable digitally because they’re old and obscure.
Products unsuitable for digital delivery because they require print-quality resolution and color.
An incentive to sit down and spend time in a location where the product can reach out to you.
Friendly grown-up staff.
Strong flavorful coffee.
Fresh-baked muffins. I suppose the muffins are somehow a metaphor, but I’m not smart enough to pick it out. Let me tell you, when we walked in and there were old-fashioned muffin tins on the counter with these big honking dark-brown mounds broadcasting berries and cinnamon and sugar and love, the deal was three-quarters done right there.