I'm not sure whether the American and British bookstore-chains that have recently closed or slimmed down have so much been defeated by external market forces or whether they've opted to shut up shop simply because their profit margins are not growing as rapidly as they'd have liked. I've heard arguments that suggest either of these reasons might be the case for the sudden demise/reduction of some of the Big Name high street outlets.
In Australia during recent weeks, both Angus & Robertson and Borders have joined this international trend, but I can't help wondering if it's all that bad and whether in the long term it might not even be good news. (At this point, I should say that I'm considering this solely from a book-selling point of view and completely aside from the stress these closures cause if you happen to be an employee of such a company.)
It seems to me that it wasn't long ago that we were lamenting the rise of the bookstore-chains and the manner in which they were squeezing out a number of independent booksellers. At the time, I believe it was argued that the likes of Borders and Waterstones had arrived at too great a cost to the livelihoods and existence of traditional, family-owned bookshops. As the independents were forced into liquidation, so too disappeared a level of personal service and knowledge that couldn't always be found in the multinationals, along with an equally-defining attitude that books were somehow more than just a commodity to be dumped in the three-for-two box.
Ever the optimist, I'm hoping that with the demise of the big chains might come the resurrection of the small independent book shop. There's certainly an opening for them, regardless of the rise of the online store: small shops where the customer can browse and touch books, discussing a title or two with the owner/assistant, and perhaps buy a decent greeting card or two at the same time. There'd be no reason why authors couldn't launch, sign and promote their books here anymore than in Borders or Waterstones, I guess, and the special promotions would be at the discretion of the local owner rather than the marketing department in a distant city. Ah utopia! Am I dreaming?