I learned today that The Bookworm, my local, independent bookstore is going out of business. A year ago, Barnes and Noble moved into the neighborhood, and as expected, our indie didn’t last long.
While I’m sad to see the bookshop go, the store didn’t even have its own website and almost never hosted authors or any other meaningful events. The store owners discouraged the browsing of magazines and refused to allow food or drink into the store, even though it is located in a town center full of coffee shops, ice cream shops, sandwich places, and restaurants.
Were they even trying to compete?
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my ideas for saving independent bookstores, and while many thanked me for taking the time to share my thoughts, I was also greeted with a small but surprisingly vehement display of negativity regarding my post, which has admittedly slowed down the writing of Part 2.
I hate to admit it, but despite the many positive responses from readers, my enthusiasm waned in the light of such harsh criticism.
I didn’t expect everyone to love my ideas, but I didn’t expect to be attacked for them either. In retrospect, linking to Amazon within the actual post wasn’t wise and I regret that mistake, but upon reflection, I have come to reject the notion that all the links on my blog should direct readers to indiebound.org, as some suggested. Professing my love for the independent bookstore does not preclude me from also appreciating retail outlets like Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Borders Books for the work that they also do to sell my book.
It’s possible to appreciate and adore the independent bookseller while also appreciating Borders Books for making SOMETHING MISSING a Book Club Pick of the Month back in October. Or Amazon, for creating an online ecosystem that makes it easy for for readers, regardless of where they live, to purchase my book with ease.
After all, Indiebound did not exist until long after Amazon appeared on the scene. I have the one to thank for the other. And on my actual website, links to Amazon and Indiebound have appeared side by side since its creation.
And frankly, doubting my love for the independent bookstore is just silly. Why would I say that I love these stores unless I actually did? Why would I take the time to share my ideas on preserving the existence of these stores if I didn’t care? Why would I schedule more than half of my appearances in independent bookstores if I did not want to support their continued existence? Why would I shop in them so frequently?
Nevertheless, the criticism tempered the enthusiasm that I felt for sharing my ideas, and so I have laid low, licking my wounds and avoiding the topic.
Then I came upon blogger Josh Christie and his interesting post on the same subject. Josh proposes ideas to assist bookstore owners that seem to echo my own in many cases. One section of his post that rung especially true to me was this:
There are stores that simply want to be book providers, and these stores are going to die. There are stores that want to sell books, and these stores are going to thrive.
For whatever reason, there are stores that think simply being there and having books on the shelf is enough. Benefiting by a location or simply longevity in a community, there is a business plan that seems to say “let’s just put books on the shelf, and our work is done.” Customer service? Nah, people just want to find a good book on their own. Handselling and making recommendations? Nope, a customer can find the right book because it is on a shelf in the store. Blogging, making videos, using social media? Too complicated, too time consuming, not enough PROOF of the efficacy.Selling books online? Amazon does it cheap, so let’s not even try to compete - we’ve already lost. Looking at a way to sell e-books? We’ll shut down before even trying something like that, those aren’t even books!
These might look like reasons to you, but they look like excuses to me.
To quote the great Roast Beef Kazenzakis(’ shirt), what the hell, people?
Apparently, I was not as alone with my ideas as I had been made to think.
So now I’m feeling a little foolish. The sharp tongues of a couple readers caused me to take more than a few steps back. This is unusual for me. Rarely have I ever backed down from a fight. Even less often have I shunned confrontation. And despite the initial support I received for my ideas, I think that the unexpected criticism caused me to wonder if I had dipped my toes into a pond where I did not belong.
What does an author know about selling books?
But I stand by my initial post and have decided that I will share more of my ideas in the near future. Regardless of my position as an author and my lack of recent experience working in book shops, I am also a small business owner, a former bookseller, a former marketing strategist, a tech-savvy individual, an effective user of social networking and a lover of the independent bookstore. I have ideas on how these stores can improve sales, and whether or not the ideas are good, I intend on sharing them.
Regardless of what anyone may say or think.