A friend went to her local independent bookstore and browsed the shelves intent on purchasing my book, Oilspill dotcom. It wasn’t there. Unperturbed, she went to the counter and asked the employee to order her a copy.
The assistant told her that they are not ordering single copies of books just now and would not be able to order Oilspill dotcom for her. Now I understand that the small bookstore has limited shelf space and there are 2 million books out there. I even understand (begrudgingly) why a bookstore where I haven’t appeared, or am not a local author, would not be sensitive to the legions of grassroots activists and readers who are seeking out my novel.
My friend went home and ordered the book online, I assume from Amazon.com.
I am a big supporter of the independent bookstore. I appreciate the service that Amazon provides, but if I plan to buy a new book, I would rather patronize my local bookstores. I admire Starbucks – they make good coffee, have cheerful staff, and a vibrant and clean store. But providing that they match the standards, I would rather give my business to a local coffee shop.
Times are hard, and the consumer field is becoming even more competitive. If Darwin was a capitalist (I’ve no idea), he would probably suggest that Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon will not need to share the field with the independent bookstore for much longer. Likewise, Starbucks, Peets, and Tully’s should be percolating the death knell of local coffee shops, grinding them into the dust, relegating them to has-beans…I’ll stop. Who said blogging couldn’t be fun?
Whether or not the mom and pop shops’ days are numbered, I would rather see them for a while longer. I feel, maybe irrationally, that they have a place in my ‘community’.
Which is why I don’t understand why the independent bookstore employee didn’t go the extra mile and order Oilspill dotcom for my friend. Perhaps they make less money from the small publisher than from major distributors, but hey, isn’t that ironic? My friend might have been able to buy my book from Amazon for less, and certainly didn’t have to leave her house, park her car and walk into the store. Furthermore, that satisfied customer might have returned to buy the next bestseller she fancies. More likely, she bought it when she purchased Oilspill dotcom and saved on the free shipping for a $25+ order.
There is a fascinating report out on the state of the book industry. What makes it fascinating is that it is cautiously optimistic of a literary future. But it does challenge the future of the independent bookstore, and anticipates a time in the not-too-distant future when e-books will match tree-books for sales. The author is Danny O. Snow, who works for the Society for New Communications Research, and his report can be found at http://www.sncr.org/
So let us end on a positive note. The book industry is not dying, but it is evolving and everyone: authors, publishers, distributors, bookstores, need to learn how to adapt to the ever-changing reality. That includes the independent bookstores, if they want to continue to exist. And I hope they do