November 15th 2009
The Future of Bookstores?
In December, a few authors (we call ourselves the Magnificent Genre Seven) will be doing a signing at a Waldenbooks in western New York. We’ve signed there before – it’s a great bookstore with a great manager who’s a friend of several of us.
Unfortunately, our signing will be the store’s last. The parent company will be closing it down (along with 100 other stores) in January.
It’s a complicated decision, not helped by the fact that the mall in which the store is located is doing poorly. But it’s also an example of everything wrong with corporate bookselling. Increasingly, the big chains are trying to sell books as if they were commodities. The manager of this store has been repeatedly frustrated over the years by her inability to sell books she feels fit her community’s tastes and needs. Instead, the company insists her store sell the same titles as every other Waldenbooks, and in the same amounts.
Think about that. Do you think the folks in western New York want to read the same books as the folks in western Tennessee? Sure, they’ll read a lot of the same books, but they won’t all be the same. There are regional differences (in fact, the folks in western New York probably don’t even read the same books as the folks in New York City or Long Island). And there are other differences, too. Do you think the folks in a town with a large military base read the same books as a town with a couple of small liberal arts colleges? I doubt it. And yet Waldenbooks (and Barnes & Noble) demands that their stores do just that. And then they judge the stores on their ability to match up against this artificially created national taste, too. Can a store manager order more books than the national buyer already has for her store even if she knows she can sell them? No. The national buyer tells her to have the customer special order the book instead.
Stupid national buyer. Why would anyone come in to Waldenbooks and special order a book Waldenbooks doesn’t carry when they can order the same book from Amazon from home? Have Waldenbooks fail to carry a book you’re looking for a couple of times, and you’re going to start not bothering to come in at all.
Which means that Amazon has the chain bookstores right where they want them.
So what is the future of bookstores, and bookselling, going to be? The Kindle and the Nook? Hardcovers as a luxury market for bibliophiles the same way vinyl is for audiophiles? Bestsellers in grocery stores and airports and everything else online? POD?
Writers discuss this all the time. What do you think?
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Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.
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