I have seen the future of the bookstore, and it has been designed by Marc Jacobs.
photo from Racked
Since I first broke the news last year of the takeover of the Biography Bookshop space by Jacobs, I have been waiting to see what would become of it. Recently, I ventured inside. It was like walking into an alternate Bizarro universe.
The shell of Biography remains intact, familiar, but startlingly changed. Most of the old shelves have been left in place, but they now give room to both books and designer accessories--$88 leather bags, branded totes, keychains, and blank notebooks with covers that mock and riff on classic titles from literature. "Moby's Dick (LOL)" is one title. "As I Lay Tanning" is another.
photo from Racked
Most of the books are big, coffee-table extravaganzas of photography, art, and fashion. It's a carefully curated selection, with many collections dear to New York City--books of photos by Allen Ginsberg snuggle up next to Andy Warhol doorstops. There's a section on music that focuses much of its energies on the city's punk scene. And there's plenty of sex. One book offers a woman's photographic ode to her husband's penis.
If you are looking for visual stimulation, Bookmarc is a good resource, a veritable glittering candy store. But aside from a handful of biographies, you won't find many books made mainly of words.
from the author's website
Those that are made of words are arranged not according to author, but by the color of their spines. For example, The Letters of Sylvia Beach, which have no relation whatsoever to House of Versace, are nonetheless situated so that the "patron saint of independent booksellers" lies weirdly co-mingled with the creator of celebrity culture. Why are they so paired? It makes no sense, unless you consider that olive green and black are the hot colors of the fall season. Don't they look great together?
At Bookmarc, book content is nearly meaningless--it's the covers that count.
In all, I found two novels. There may be more hidden in between the tote bags and colored pencils, but I only found two, both by Francine Prose.
Prose and Jacobs' business partner, Robert Duffy, are buddies, so she gets a whole shelf dedicated to her work. It's the Francine Prose shelf, where her fiction and nonfiction are intermixed, shuffled together confusingly for maximum visual punch.
Prose also wrote the foreword to The Men and Women of Marc Jacobs (all Voguish shots of his employees), saying, "What these pictures give us is the family album of what may be--what probably is--simply the coolest and the hottest rainbow family on the planet."
Cool and hot, the Marc Jacobs family undoubtedly includes his faithful customers, who are more like disciples, all oddly similar in their vests over t-shirts, their Sinatra hats and leather wristbands, their thumbs flying over iPhone faces and iPod click wheels. And this was the biggest change from the old bookstore.
Unlike Biography's more peaceful customers, Bookmarc's are jittery and distracted. Most are too busy texting LOLs to read the bit of text in the books they stand leafing through. It's hard to read anyway with loud dance music playing overhead. Within 10 seconds of walking inside, I was pushed and shoved. The customers created a buzzy and brittle energy that you generally don't find in bookstores, but that you can expect to find in bookstores of the future.
photo from Racked
The greatest gift to be found in Bookmarc is the unparalleled view it gives us of the future of bookstores.
With books disappearing into digital pixels, in the future, it is likely that only sumptuous books loaded with visuals will be printed on paper. In the specialty shops where they'll be sold, you'll find fashion accessories mixed in, like cheese poured over broccoli, to make the medicine of even these digestible books go down more easily.
The ambiance will be frenetic. Books will be attractively arranged without thought to their topic or genre. In the loudspeakers, you will hear a pounding beat. It will be there to keep you from thinking too deeply as you browse and consider what to consume. As a person of the future, this won't trouble you.
In the end you will opt to purchase a gold leather headband stamped with a brand name. You will step out of the shop, place it on your head, and feel as if something important has just happened to you. Ten minutes later, you will wonder what that hollow feeling is deep inside. You won't be able to place it. Having never read a book in your life, you won't even know what you are missing.
More Jane, Less Marc