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23 June 2011

Is This About the Book?

The NY Times published yet another article about how desperate the independent booksellers are, charging admission to authors' readings or requiring participants to buy the book at the store.  And, horrors of horrors, there are people who object.  Ann Patchett asks, what about people who can't afford the hardcover?  Well, Ms Patchett, if the titles in hardcover weren't so expensive, perhaps more people can.  Many sought-after and even debut published authors first introduce their new titles in hardcover, disdaining a printing in the mass market or trade paperback format for at least a year later, when the pool of most buyers of hardcovers (such as, the die-hard fans, the public libraries, members of discount bookclubs, the givers of books as gifts to readers) has been exhausted.  And, as mentioned before, there is certainly a prestige to being able to point out that one's book was published in hardcover first.  Yet, for "affordability" and mass distribution, these same authors and publishers allow e-books to be published at the same time or hard on the heels of hardcovers. If e-books is simply another format that readers should be able to obtain a newly published book, why not print the trade or mass market paperback at the same time, also?

I am also stunned to see a publisher's quote: “We pay for the author to travel and come to the bookstore, and then the store makes money from it?"  Do publishers believe they do are doing independent booksellers a favor?  Aren't publishers for-profit businesses, also?  Should they all simply retreat to online author events?  Perhaps not charge admissions, but ask that participants buy their books from the bookstore is the least we can do (perhaps, if buying not the author's book, because they have it already as a gift or purchased elsewhere, then that giftcard idea is good). 

Quite frankly, we would never get that kind of play here in Dixon.  We are unable to get more than one publisher in a great while to send an author.  An author's visit is usually at the instigation of the author.  We have had to discount many books (basically cutting our intake of revenue) in order not to punish loyal customers for not buying online.

I'd like to see how Ms Patchett's new venture as a bookseller fares.  I hope it does well, but affords her a greater understanding of the struggle of independent booksellers.  Of course, with the connections she and her partner have, there will be publishers willing to add the new bookstore to authors' tours.  What is yet unknown is how they would feel about people ordering books online or otherwise taking up valuable space without assisting in the cost (e.g,, overhead, bookseller's time in promoting event, stocking the hardcover, etc) or somehow showing their appreciation for the bookstore's continued existence.  I love how one independent bookseller articulated the problem, “We’re not just an Amazon showroom.”

In another segue, NPR had a piece about a store in which everything is made in (United States of) America, including the packaging in which the product comes.  There are some competitive pricing, but generally, the schtick is that everything in the store can be counted on to be 100% American-made with American materials and American labor, precluding basically all electronics and most electrical appliances.  And, then, there's a quote from a woman shopper who said, while she wants to "shop American" , but ...
"You buy the best deal you can find. That's what it's all about. [For] some people, every penny counts. And if you can save 50 cents, that's a lot," she says.
 So, isn't it really about the money?

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