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08 January 2010

Giving a Helping Hand to Indie Bookstores

I heard an item last night on PRI's The World that I want to share with you. (Actually, I hear a lot of great items I want to share, but it's usually while I'm driving the 113 miles from Walton, IL, to Chicago, or in some other awkward situation.)

It's about Tesco, the "biggest retailer" in England and an independent bookstore. Upon prompting by the manager of Linghams, the Tesco's in Heswall Mersheyside, the Tesco is now directing shoppers seeking less popular books to the bookstore across the street. It's a little hokey, but the concept is there. (Warning, there is very little to read, so you will need a sound card and speakers to listen to this piece.) Hey, World's Biggest Retailer, maybe you can do the same for all the independent bookstores, music shops, et al., which you have obliterated, while stocking only the most popular, "family-oriented" products and selling at deeply discounted prices.

To dovetail off this, at Christmastime, we discussed USA Constitution First Amendment rights versus the right to choose. A staunchly liberal father, whom I have heard to say that he believes NPR is as conservative/mainstream/opaque/conspiratorially covering up as any other licensed and legally recognized radio network except maybe Pacifica, very much appreciated that Wal-mart had sold Eminem albums with all the expletives deleted or actually, hushed, such that the 4-letter word meaning feces or garbage came out as a gentle shhhh, or stuttered, such as the 4-letter poorly used term rhyming with "duck" came out as a "ff-ff-ff" (harkening back to scratched vinyl, it appears). He believes that, it is Wal-mart's business and its prerogative to ban or ask artists to change items to make them agreeable to Wal-mart's policies & customer base. If people did not like that oppression of "art," then, these people did not have to buy them or even shop at Wal-mart. We at Books on First did not want someone coming in and telling us what to stock or what not to stock, did we?

Hard point for a democracy (or for any other civil society). What say you? (As John Adams sang, per the musical 1776, "Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?")

I see two, no -- three, no -- four additional points:
a) Eminem was asked presumably and agreed to this censorship, meaning he wanted to expand his fanbase to those 12-year-olds et al, for whom parents were buying or were allowing to buy his CDs, to create a new image or clean up his image, or to do so for some other reason for which allowing censorship was a good idea (maybe the shhh and ff-ff-ff was a new artistic twist sans live DJs)
b) His regular fanbase who presumably really like his including expletives in the songs did not mind what he did enough to stop buying his CDs (meaning, I had not heard that he lost any fans)
c) How many music shops has Wal-mart put out of business first by selling all those popular yet family-friendly music before having the clout to say to recording artists, hey, change or perish? our way or no way? (Did anyone catch Hank Williams III, who said no, and possibly, not literally perished?) Couldn't someone in the Walton family or the Board or senior management have expressed remorse and then, have all managers put up signs directing shoppers to the local shops where they could go buy those less popular or non-Wal-mart-approved items, such as CDs, books, Asian carp, etc?
d) Books are a lot harder to censor, especially if it is an idea that jars. One pretty much has to ban the entire book. And, most times, unless there are heroes out there (the authors themselves, family, editors, publishers, booksellers or readers) who valiantly push to keep a title alive, a book without a place to be sold simply turns to dust (or the digital equivalent).

I'm not faulting Wal-mart for using its clout. If I had that kind of clout, don't think I wouldn't use it, too. I don't agree with what it uses its clout to accomplish, and fear the implications of an indifferent society. When Wal-mart is the only game in 42 miles, then, where is the freedom of choice?

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