Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Future Is Marc

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.

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?

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.

The customers are 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.

Further reading:
More Jane, Less Marc


CityGirlWrites said...

Yet another powerful post. This piece made me curious to visit the horrid new bookstore of the future you describe yet sad to know such a place exists. It seems like a cold place where the content of the whole bookstore experience has been emptied. If this approach to book selling establishes itself say goodbye to what bookstores have always been - those quiet places where you could browse through ideas and engage with authors through their writing. I was in an Anthropologie store recently where a lovely display of books turned out to be nothing but book covers over blank pages, achieving the "book look" without all those troublesome words. Like I said, just sad. Your closing paragraph about how a visit to a future bookstore might end made me laugh then the slow creep of truth set in: 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.

Adjunkt said...

As much as I revile the very concept, I will go there, once, to experience the feeling of future shock.

EV Grieve said...

FINALLY! I found the perfect accessory (preferably something WITHOUT words) for the Luxe St. Mark's Quilted Python Shoulder Bag by Marc Jacobs that I bought!

Ken Mac said...

an alternate chapter from Orwell's 1984.
I can't step into the place, passed it the other day. Thanks for the report, I think.

Jeremiah Moss said...

want to know the really creepy part? it sucks you in. the assortment of photography books is pretty appealing for browsing through. with the visuals and the thumpy music, you can actually feel your reptilian brain being stimulated while your cerebral cortex goes to sleep.

i'd love to see what Paco Underhill would say about it. here's Paco:

A Kell said...

Bleecker Street -- oof. You're such a masochist.

To encourage just a tiny bit of counteracting optimism, how about another mention for the other new bookshop in town, the wonderful Mast?

Jeremiah Moss said...

yes, yay Mast, with its abundant fiction, poetry, etc., none of it organized according to the colors of its covers.

Robin said...

Good post.

What will poor Marc Jacobs do when all the printed books disappear as has been prophesied?

Electronic chic just won't cut it...

Anonymous said...

Support your local library.
At least they still have real books and for free, albeit without the future shock colorized version of the dewey decimal system.

Kevin Walsh said...

"Moby's Dick"? (Yeah, I know it's a notebook title)

"Getting To Know My Husband's Cock?"

Pomo literature seems Freudian-ly fixated.

This stuff is not meant to be read, it's just a big Fuck You to the people they consider insufficiently hip and happening.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

This post reminds me of a little housewares/garden shop I visited just east of Bowery a while back. They had a collection of famous classics - Lolita, Great Expectations, Ulysses, etc - lined up along a table. I picked one up only to discover it was just a painted block of wood.

For $250.

I couldn't fathom the person who would buy such an empty, meaningless thing. Now, maybe I can.

timmmyk said...

I want to go in there and just smear cucpake icing all over the shelves.

City Of Strangers said...


Your description made me curious to visit as well. We'll see if this is the future of books, or just bookstores for trendies in places like little Wisconsin. What with libraries being turned into multimedia, cell phone friendly zones (who needs quiet space anyway? Huh?), and the remodeling of cafes and big chain bookstores into 'offices for freelnacers', it is entirely possible.

However, I do love the description of 'Sinatra hats and vests over t-shirts, with leather wristbands'. Perfect! You see this kind of person all over Manhattan and Brooklyn now . . . and, on the bright side, this latest incarnation of the Beautiful City is ripe for satire.


Tricia said...

Great post on the continued Marc Jacob-ization of 10014, Jeremiah. As a long time resident, I try to avoid Bleecker St from Abingdon Square to 7th Ave. The new boutique is perfectly suited to its luxe location. I was surprised & appalled to read yesterday that the West Village zip code 10014 is THE most expensive in NYC and #5 in the country (above Beverly Hills, which is #6.) Apparently Forbes has been doing this list of the most expensive zips every year, though I was unaware of it till now.

Re: "you won't find many books made mainly of words." People don't read anymore, they scan. Except people who read blogs, of course!

hoolsa said...

That place seems like useless real estate to me. If a bookstore smells like patchouli instead of newsprint, it's probably garbage.

Anonymous said...

And of course who can forget The Eldridge, with its bookstore facade display of books that aren't actually for sale... or for reading.

This site sells actual (mostly danish) books by the foot and yard for decorating purposes... you can even choose a style and color scheme!

"A library, study or simply a corner table...designer books are an affordable and elegant way to add warmth and beauty to your decor."

For people whose homes have a LIBRARY, but rather than being a repository for words and ideas, it is just another space to be decorated... add "warmth" by lining the wall with impressive-looking books in a language you don't even speak.

VH McKenzie said...

I don't think we should despair -- this is not the future of books. This is just the temporary fixation of of an empty, shallow style-maker.

This year it's books, next year it will be bicycles. It's not the object so much as how he can style it, mock it, make useless crap on the theme of it.

This store isn't about books. Thank god.

Marty Wombacher said...

This was a great post. It gave me a twitchy Twilight Zone feeling reading it. But sadly, this isn't a script, it's real life. I just threw up a little.

imascatterbrain said...

Oh, Jer, Jer,

I hate to flaunt
my literary leanings "like this," but, HOLY MOLY.

I was disgusted by the name BookMarc when first observed somewhere (?) on line, but I just thought the name to be a stupid faux Latin word (ha ha), or similar marketing BS,

and I haven't been on Bleecker farther west than that odd grocery store with all the aisles given street names like MacDougal
(oh, admit it, you've been there,
if only "for research,"... oh... would that be like "to read the articles?"),

since I worked at Badlands, not THAT Badlands, but equivalent longitude and era? But would be a much more "literary" anecdote if it had been THAT Badlands...

Where TF was I?

and so recently after ₱µÑ₵†ùå₮ î ô Ñ ₯₳ ¥ ?

I need some hard returns

to clear my head

before I come to my point and probably vomit:


Jeremiah Moss said...

the Eldridge for sure! and fake books! there are so many examples, it's happening everywhere...

Anonymous said...

PEOPLE! why are you SO angry? AT LEAST they sell The Letters of Sylvia Beach! Maybe some of the Sinatra hatted will learn a thing or two. It could have become an Ed Hardy shop.

alone in the dark said...

i spit on the doors of the disney store when it opened in times square. then my boyfriend (now husband) and i went to show world and chatted it up with a live nude girl in a booth.

i'll spit on this place too. i'll also take pictures.

Brenda from Flatbush said...

Aaaarrrggghhh...maybe they can carry Snooki's book when it comes out. (She's an author now, don'tcha know.)

Jill said...

Words are so aughts, get with it.

(I'm struggling with how to refer to the decade 2000-2010.)

Jeremiah Moss said...

i like "aughts." in particular, i like to say "latter aughts."

Anonymous said...

It's sooo over, the whole West Village is gone.

imascatterbrain said...

uh, decade not 2000-2010
it is 2000-2009

Ignorance is so not the new black, Aught, or Naught,
but does sell well, and

I need to get out more....

Unknown said...

Talk about extinction! Does anyone know the name of the bookstore that is now occupied by "Manhattan Monster"?