Sunday, August 3, 2008
Big Yellow Taxi (They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot)
"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone." Joni Mitchell © 1966-69 Siquomb Publishing Co. BMI.
I had lunch the other day with a friend of mine, blues legend Otis Taylor. Otis recently won the coveted Downbeat Critics Poll for best blues album of the year for his "Recapturing the Banjo" recording, a wildly innovative and entertaining education for those of us who grew up associating the banjo with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
As he usually does, Otis had something interesting and challenging to say. We were talking about our kids - both his and mine are college-aged. And he suggested that they had best be sure that they're planning on doing something that the Chinese and other lower-paid laborers abroad can't do. His point: the Chinese engine of economic growth is moving at an enormous rate of speed. "Made in China" used to be stamped on all manner of relatively simple-to-manufacture consumer goods. But today, China has become identified with production that ranges from basic consumer goods to high-tech products of all kinds.
We have become accustomed to exporting American dollars and manufacturing jobs to China in exchange for consumer goods. But in recent years, with the rising cost of energy and the decline of the most prominent symbols of cheap energy, the automobile and the entire automotive industry, a new model has begun to take hold.
Some parts of the future that this new model suggests have been apparent for some time. Other elements are just beginning to become clear.
Tonight, after dinner and margaritas with a few of our kids (and a grandchild, Aiden), Nanette and I wandered up the street to the Boulder Bookstore. We do this almost every time we head down to Pearl Street for dinner. Boulder is beautiful on almost any summer evening. Full of scents and sounds and surprises, it has as much magic for me now as it did the first time I visited, back in 1985. And the Boulder Bookstore is an institution. It has the feel of a place that belongs in Boulder. Like a number of restaurants that bear an unmistakable "local" feel, including the Mountain Sun, Foolish Craig's, Jax, and the Mediterranean, among others, the Boulder Bookstore seems to belong here.
But tonight, as we headed in, I realized something had changed. Not with the store. With me. I was looking forward to walking through the front door as much as ever. I was eagerly anticipating my first view of the shelf that holds the books that are favorites with the locals. I knew where the Seattle chocolates would be. And I knew before we entered the door that I would head, before much time had passed, to the section of the store that displays the music-related magazines. But this time a thought crept into my head: I wonder whether I will see a book I like and decide not to buy it at the Boulder Bookstore because I can download it, instead, to my Kindle.
And that got me thinking. If you're the Boulder Bookstore, how do you fight that? I love Amazon. Love it. They grab more of my consumer dollars each year than I, or anyone, could have guessed had they looked at the marketplace back in 1998, just ten years ago. I buy from Amazon because it's fast, it's reasonably priced, the experience is uniformly good and I can find almost anything I want. Immediately.
But I love the Boulder Bookstore too. And it occurs to me that there may not be enough consumer spending to go around. Many of the books, including bestsellers, that would cost me $15-20 or more at the Boulder Bookstore will cost less than $10 via Amazon's Kindle download store. And finding and purchasing books using the Kindle is remarkably fast. Efficient. Inexpensive. When I download a book instead of purchasing it in hard copy, fewer trees have to be felled. And having a few hundred books on a device the size of a notepad is a lot more convenient than lugging them around. Trust me. I know. And anyone who knows me has seen me try to lug a dozen or so through one or another airport.
So, what happens next? While you're contemplating that, how about this: "China as the World Factory (Kindle Edition)." Where do you suppose the Kindle is manufactured?
And what about the Boulder Bookstore? Just like Joni Mitchell says, "They paved paradise . . . " Let's hope that doesn't ever happen. That would really suck.