Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Vote for the Independent Bookstore


Things are shifting uneasily in the book world. It seems like almost every day brings news of another independent bookstore closing -- Jim Huang's The Mystery Company in Indiana and The Open Book in Greeneville, SC (after forty years!) are two of the latest casualties. In 1993 therewere 4,700 independent book stores in the US; by 2007, there were only 2,500. Heaven knows what the figures are today. Even the big chains, the well-known names, aren't showing the profits they once did.

Is it the economy? Is it the on-line book sellers? Is it e-books? Is it huge discounts in big-box stores? Is it a shrinking base of readers?


So far, the independents I know best in my area are still hanging in there -- making adjustments where necessary, adding a cafe here, joining forces with another bookseller there.

Long may they survive!

The indies are a treasure to the community -- holding readings, hosting book clubs and discussions, giving space to writers' groups, running book fairs to support various community projects -- and, oh yes, being real booksellers.

These are the folks who read the books and can tell you about them, who remember what sort of books you like and recommend similar ones. Indy booksellers tend to be passionate about books -- heaven knows they're not in it for the money!

These are the folks who've been very good to me, 'hand selling' my Elizabeth Goodweather books and hosting events where I can meet my readers.

And these are the charming little stores where I love to browse and discover new books -- the quiet little books that are under the bestsellers' radar, the quirky little books that'll never show up at Wal Mart, the regional books that teach me more about Appalachia . . .

So I make a point of doing some gift-buying at my local Indies. Even if I could save a few dollars by shopping on line.

It's my small vote in favor of the wonderful institution of the independent bookstore.



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23 comments:

Martin H. said...

I'll second that Vicki. We've had a number of bookshops open in our local market town in the past few years. They never seem to quite make it though. Friends of ours were doing well with their book-fairs. So well, that they opened a small shop last April. It closed earlier this month and they're only doing book-fairs on the the last Saturday in each month now. Such a shame.

Jon Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon Lee said...

I find the closing of the independent book stores distressing. I also read where Barnes and Noble will be closing some of their stores. Young people today, and of course, there are exceptions, are not as a group readers. I teach high school, and it is a major accomplishment to get students to read. They are so used to texting, video games, television, movies, whatever is easy, immediate, and handed to them. I, who have always been a reader and will get my library card before anything else if I move, am mystified. Many young people do not have library cards. I love books. I have a son who loves books, but that also came from his home environment. I remember he cried because he was too young to get his own library card when he was five years old. I always encourage parents to turn off the television sets and eliminate the private time that young people spend in their rooms and have family reading nights. Hopefully, things will turn around. I can't imagine a world without the written word on paper. The feel of a book in your hand is a blessing.

Tammy said...

Hi Vicki, It seems to be a fading world of 'independent anything'. It's all about the big chain stores, but I think even they are taking some hits. I can think of only one indie bookstore in the town I work in, and it is not a very nice place. The 'ambience' sure isn't there, and they watch you like a hawk the whole time. In the nearest large town I'm sure there are an independent or two, but I've not found them (yet). The big thing around here is used bookstores. I really love most of them, although I know they aren't the same as what you experience with your local bookstores and people that know books and care enough to be involved. What you describe sounds very neat, and I love how they sponsor talks and things like that-more like a community. I do frequent B & N in the big city when I go there, and the last time I was there it was crazy. No worries that day about nobody reading! ha.. The place was wall to wall with people and I think there were about 30 people in front of me when I checked out (no exaggeration). The internet I think does play a big part too in diverting sales away from the smaller independent stores too. I do hope that books do not 'go by the wayside'. It would be a sad world without them.
Tammy

Liz said...

Whenever we travel we always make it a point to find the local bookstore - there are always regional books and hiking books that just aren't available everywhere. Our two closest friends bought a Sony Reader and a Kindle for Christmas and they love the convenience - but I really need to feel that book in my hand. I recently read that the average child spends 7 1/2 hours a day with electronic devices - phone, text, email, ipod, TV - that totally blows my mind. I need to read "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv - have you read it?

Vicki Lane said...

It will be interesting to see if future generations care at all for book in the paper form or if an electronic version will be just as fulfilling -- to those that still read.

Martin - sorry to hear that it's the same over there. A tiny bookshop in an English market town sounds like such an idyllic thing.

Jon Lee -- both my boys (men, really, in their thirties) are voracious readers, due, I think to the fact that we went for long periods with out television. And then too, my husband and I both read a lot. As you say, it's hard to imagine a world where books are quaint antiques.

Tammy -- for those of us who live far away from the nearest bookstore, the Internet can be a blessing. But when I get to town (rarely, it's a pleasure to spend a little time browsing and basking in the world of books.) And yes, used bookstores are true delight -- I love old books!

Vicki Lane said...

You snuck in while I was posting that last comment, Liz. I'm not familiar with the book you mention -- will check it out.

Philosophically speaking, I guess that a book on a Kindle is still a book (imagine the furor when scrolls were replaced by books - I expect there were those who lamented the stately unrolling of the text and found pages totally alien.) But, yeah, I do love a book in its paper form.

Though if I were stuck in a nursing home with poor vision, arthritic hands, and limited space for books, I expect I'd treasure a Kindle.

Carol@ Writers Porch/ Book House said...

Hey Vicki.....
this subject is very close to my heart. I love my indie, Main Street Books. I don't purchase every book I buy from there but I do support all the events Diane puts on and spend quite a lot of money there throughout the year. I love Amazon because I don't have to leave home to purchase a book I've just discovered. I also like their pre-order feature.I don't believe I will ever be a "kindle" reader as I love to hold the book and see it on the shelf. I'm happiest when I'm surrounded by my books. Attending book festivals and signings is my favorite activity so I hope they will continue to be held. I can't imagine a world without bookstores!
I will continue to support my favorite authors and buy their books "new" wherever I can purchase them. :) GREAT POST!

Tipper said...

Funny-me and a friend was just talking about this yesterday. It is sad that independent stores are suffering so. A good post.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

We have several charming independent book stores near us. They are wonderful.

I'm in Florida right now and I've noticed that several of the chain stores stores in the mall going out of business. Not the whole chain - just that store.
Sam

Vicki Lane said...

Thank heavens for folks like you, Carol! While I'm delighted to hear that someone enjoyed one of my books that they got secondhand or from the library or from a friend, the only thing my publisher cares about is units sold. That's what determines if I get a contract to write another book.

These are tough times and most everyone is cutting back somewhere. It will be interesting to see what survives. I hate to see any store close, even one of those featureless chains -- because of the jobs lost. But it's irrational to think that unlimited growth is possible. Choices have to be made...

maría cecilia said...

Dear Vicki, I think the crisis of the books stores is all that you say... plus the price, here in Chile they are extremely expensive so the copies of the books started and there`s a lot on the streets at low prices... sorry.
Muchos cariños,
Maria Cecilia

Eliane Zimmermann said...

yes, long may they survive! what is a world without books. hard to imagine. sitting in the veranda or even on the t... with a kindle or on a tiny i-pod-touch-screen??? ;-(((( hard to imagine.

Vicki Lane said...

Or in the bath tub -- one of my favorite place to read.

Vicki Lane said...

Or in the bath tub -- one of my favorite place to read.

jennyfreckles said...

I so agree about the need (and joy) of independent book stores. I'm lucky enough to live near two good ones - one huge, one tiny. Funnily enough, I wrote on my blog this week about bookshops too.

Merisi said...

I agree!!!!!
I remember when the first Border's opened in the DC suburb of Rockville, MD. Everybody rushed there, bought there, raved about its size. Then came Barnes & Nobles, same enthusiasm all around again. One by one, independent bookstores in the DC area closed. I miss most Olsson's who had been a fixture of DC for decades, then Chapter's (still trying to survive online), Second Story Book was forces out of its Bethesda Ave location in Bethesda, MD, where it had been for decades, moving to a lesser location and now closed. Politics & Prose on Connecticut AVe NW is still hanging on, I hope the new owners manage to keep it open, including their downstairs quirky coffee shop!

Anonymous said...

I still mourn the loss of the Oxford book stores and the Science Fiction and Mystery Book Store in Atlanta. One reason I love the indy book stores is that I feel a moral obligation to buy books whenever I'm in one. Gives me an excellent rationalization for spending money on books, not that I have much trouble doing that anyway.

Lynne in GA

Vicki Lane said...

You never miss the water till the well runs dry -- or however that song puts it.

The saddest thing is that as the little stores close and then more and more of the chains close, if wee want to buy a book in person, we'll be left with Wal Mart picks -- mostly the same tried and true best selling authors.

Victoria said...

I do shop a lot at Amazon because I read so much and, unfortunately, can't afford to buy all my books at bookstores. I pass on the books I like but don't want to read again to our local thrift shop, but if I really like a book I go to McCabe's Booksellers down in Crestline and buy (or order) one for my sister and each of my nieces. Well, those nieces who like to read; sadly, a few of them do not. But, happily, readers out number non-readers in our family!

I can't imagine living in a world without real books, not e-readers. There are many changes in society that disturb me, but none more than the decline in readers. It seems to me that a society who doesn't like to read is well on its way to becoming a very ignorant society.

Vicki Lane said...

I have to admit I mainly buy paperbacks because of the price. I bought HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY for a recent birthday gift and shuddered as I handed over 25 plus dollars, When four hard backs cost a hundred dollars . . . ouch! (Of course, a hundred dollars isn't what it used to be, alas!

Vagabonde said...

My husband and I are true bookworms and we have the rooms full of books to show it – way too many. I spent many Saturdays at Oxford Books in Peachtree Battle in Atlanta - they even had French magazines. We have taken trips before to towns just because they had interesting bookstores. I have a book listing all the bookstores in the southeast. We went to Portland so as to visit Powell’s Book store. When we decide to drive to another state I spend a lot of time on the Net to see where there is an independent book store and we’ll stop there for lunch or the night. When we were in Alabama last time we made a detour just to stop in Arab, Alabama where Between the Book Ends is located, so we could visit it (and I found a good book.) I think the non reading American public stems a lot from the education here. At work I rarely saw someone with a book. I remember that for years my mother would watch the no. 1 show on TV in France then which was about the book of the week (like here the Idol show.) Also I find that this country does not like “intellectuals” they prefer Joe the plumber, rather than in France intellectuals are regarded highly. At least when I lived there people would regard a teacher, professor or writer more highly than a millionaire banker – the results of the educated mind were thought as more successful (even if the person is poor) than the results of someone getting millions in a trade. It may have changed with the new generation though – we have to ask Miss Yves.

Vicki Lane said...

Ah, Vagabonde -- I agree with much of what you say but I blame the lack of interest in reading on parents who never read to their children (or to themselves) and rely on the TV as a babysitter. Not that out educational system is blameless - far too much 'teaching to the test' and not enough simple reading time.

And as for our country preferring non-intellectuals -- certainly that's true of a great many people but we did manage to elect an intellectual-ish sort president by a good majority. But, in general, you're right. American Idol beats out Masterpiece Theater every time, alas!