Apr 23, 2010

Indy books vs Indy bookstores

In my other life as a journalist, I had the good fortune recently to attend a lecture by the owner of a very successful independent bookstore. He was speaking to a group of authors and small local publishers, and the dynamic was extremely interesting for a number of reasons.

  • The majority of the participants were on the older side, and there was a lot of resistance to technology. Amazon, Kindles, iPhones - all were the enemy (though there was an undercurrent of idolatry, if I'm not mistaken). The smell of ink came highly recommended. Most of the questions were of the "how do you think technology X will affect writers" variety. Which seemed odd to me, since they were speaking to a bookstore owner, who clearly can't do anything about the influx of technology.
  • There was a sense of shifting blame for the failure of one's books. It wasn't that the book was bad, or boring, or extremely limited in audience. It wasn't that people have limited incomes and can't just buy every book by a local author that vaguely overlaps with their interests. It's that bookstores won't buy local books, or it's impossible to get printed in the current market, or nobody will take a chance on their topic. Now, certainly there are great books being ignored out there. But it seems like leaning on these explanations may result in a lot of bitterness down the road. FYI.

Most interesting, though, was a question about self-publishing. An author was saying he'd self-published but now couldn't get even local indy bookstores to stock his book. This is a common complaint, and a totally valid frustration for an author that's edited carefully, gotten a great cover, and totally deserves the shelf space. But the bookstore owner still said no - it was very unlikely that he'd carry a self-published book.

The reason for this? Well, one of the only things that really good indy bookstores have that big chain and internet stores don't have is...quality control. The staff are reading the books, picking up titles that got great reviews or that they really liked. People come into the stores trusting them, knowing that whatever they choose to buy will be well done and worth reading.

So even though it seems at first glance like indy books and indy bookstores are a great match, from another point of view it's indy books that stand the greatest chance of running indy bookstores out of business. Ohnoes!

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