I recall in the mid-1980s when I passed, and stopped into, my first Borders store. It was brand-new, though tiny by the standards of what a typical Borders would later become. But it stood out like a beacon because it had books -- thousands of different books, books on all subjects, books by writers you might not have heard of, books that weren't just the latest half-dozen bestsellers. This was a revolutionary concept at the time, when many typical chain bookstores carried only what they knew would sell pretty readily (i.e., bestsellers, maybe a few mysteries, cookbooks, and picture books), and independents focused almost exclusively on one subject area (politics, mystery, children's).
After 25 years, the Borders era (which included imitators) ended. I was in a "general-interest" bookstore just a couple of weeks ago, right after Christmas, and a pretty depressing place it was. It wasn't so much that it was empty of customers, but the evidence of what bookstores have become since the advent of the e-book and the demise of Borders. There aren't any books any more! OK, maybe still a few more than you would have seen in such a store thirty years ago, but one floor is now devoted increasingly to e-readers, a limited selection of best-sellers, remainders, CDs, and DVDs, while the upper floor's stock of books is greatly diminished. In short, it's no longer a place to browse.
Does it matter? Can't we accomplish the same thing if we browse on the internet and order our picks delivered to our Kindle or Nook or iPad? Yes and no. A recent opinion makes the argument that in picking what to read from the immense number of books published every year, we fail to exercise our choice. We gravitate toward what we know, both in terms of authors and subject matter. This is a natural human tendency. When confronted by an infinite variety of choices, whether in book titles, pizzerias, or music, the choice of the familiar is easier, quicker, and comforting.
Unfortunately for diversity, the growth in popularity of tablets and e-book readers continues unabated. But searching for titles in the Amazon store, or on sites like Goodreads, where algorithms offer up suggestions for things you might like, based of course on what you've bought or liked in the past, only exacerbate the tendency to go with what you like, know, and agree with. (The same tendency has been much noted in the reading of news and political opinion, with rather unhealthy effect.)
I'm a part of "the problem" myself, because I have pretty much stopped buying "real" books in favor of electronic ones. So I struggle a little harder to find reading that might offer a new perspective or different subject matter. The one answer I've found is the limited space devoted to book reviews in newspapers and some magazines. It's imperfect, but better than nothing. Maybe those media should consider devoting more space and effort to book reviews; or maybe bookseller websites should do more to review a greater variety of works.