February 25th 2013
The Loss of Another Bookstore
Last summer, during my Thieftaker signing tour (as D.B. Jackson), I did a signing at a small independent bookstore called Between Books. The store, which has been open for over thirty-three years, is the brain-child and passion of Greg Schauer, a terrific person who loves books and loves the SF/Fantasy genre. At my signing, I sold a good number of books and did a well-attended reading of a short story set in the Thieftaker world. More, I encountered a group of people who were devoted readers and who welcomed me into what was obviously a close-knit community of genre fans. A community that had been fostered by Greg and Between Books.
This past Friday, Greg posted the following on the Between Books website:
I have written and rewritten this a million times in my head over the last few days. Words fail me
It is with a heavy heart that I must announce Between Books Going Out of Business sale will begin Saturday February 23rd. We have lost our lease. More Information soon. Please spread the word.
Let’s be honest: A small, independent, genre-specific bookstore going out of business is not exactly news in today’s publishing world. We’ve lost Borders. Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble are closing stores across the country. If the behemoths can’t make it, how can the small indies? No, the closing of Between Books is not a surprise. But for me at least, it’s incredibly sad. Sad because Greg is an asset to the SF/Fantasy community, as are his readers. But sad also because of the trend itself.
To my mind, browsing in a bookstore is one of the great joys in life. When I was a kid, my hometown had a small independent bookstore called Anderson’s. I used to go there after school: elementary school, middle school, high school — Anderson’s was a constant in my life. I would wander the aisles, checking out the fiction section, the natural history books, the sports books. I could lose myself for hours there. Remarkably, Anderson’s remains open, a 60 year-old institution in a town that has changed at a slower pace than the rest of the world. But it is the exception to the rule. Most towns have long since lost their Anderson’s to mall bookstores that have then themselves been lost.
This past Saturday, I took part in a group signing at a Barnes and Noble in a local mall. I was seated next to an older author, a woman who expressed amazement at the amount of foot traffic through the store. And she was right: there were lots of people walking past our tables. But sales in the store, and certainly sales of our books, were pretty slow. And it didn’t take us long to figure out that store only seemed crowded because, a) many people used the store as an entrance to the mall itself; b) a lot of people were coming in for the cafe rather than for the books; and c) the people who did come in to shop were looking for something specific. They would find it, buy it, and leave. Precious few customers were browsing the way so many of us who love books like to browse.
Now, I understand that people still do browse through book titles. They do it online. They do it with their Kindles and Nooks and iPads. Books still sell in this country, just not the way they used to. It is a changing business model, not necessarily a dying one. And as an author, I take solace in this. But I fear for the bricks-and-mortar bookstore. I expect that in ten years, few of us will have access to one.
There is a silver-lining to all of this. I spoke to Greg today. I called to tell him how sorry I was to hear the news. He sounded upbeat. As he told me, his suppliers are happy with him, he hasn’t run out of money; he just has lost his retail space. And he assured me that he is already thinking about his next store, about changes he can make to bring his business up to speed with the modern market, without losing the charm and novelty of his wonderful store. He knows it’s going to be a tough road, but it’s one he’s prepared to travel. And I look forward to the day he reopens: I have already told him that I’ll do my best to be there when he does.
But in the meantime, we have lost a gem of a store, and I fear it won’t be the last.
David B. Coe
David B. Coe is the author of eleven fantasy novels, including the books of the LonTobyn Chronicle, Winds of the Forelands, and Blood of the Southlands. He has also written the novelization for the Ridley Scott production of ROBIN HOOD, starring Russell Crowe, that is due out in May 2010. In 1999 he received the Crawford Fantasy Award, given annually by the IAFA to the best new author in fantasy. He has a Ph.D. in United States environmental history and lives on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee with his wife and daughters. Visit site.
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