What’s it worth to our communities, to our common culture, to have independent bookstores? What would it mean if online retailers became our only choice, if publishers reduced the number of titles they publish each year, if authors have Amazon publish their books? Do we want books — their publication and sale alike — in the hands of a single corporation? What will happen to authors like Justin Torres or Alice LaPlante, Miranda July or Jhumpa Lahiri, if booksellers aren’t reading and recommending these extraordinary novelists to their communities? Will we all be “browsing” online? There are some wonderful book blogs on the Web. Will they become the sole source of discovery? Or, will the serendipitous discovery of a life-changing book, encountered while browsing books on a shelf, continue to play a role in our reading lives? What about a heartfelt recommendation from a bookseller who knows and who cares about the book, about you, and about matching one to the other?
At this moment in our industry’s history, indie stores like Changing Hands have in some ways become showrooms for books. We read, we recommend, we display staff picks, we advertise and promote, we interact one-on-one to match the right book with the right person, and we host hundreds of author events every year. Sadly, our sales don’t always reflect our efforts. Luckily, we generate a lot of local publicity for books and author events — in local newspapers, blogs and magazines, and on radio programs and morning television. But all too often the benefits of that hard work go to Amazon and the chain bookstores. This is not unique to Changing Hands. Millions of readers learn about books from enthusiastic indie bookstores across the country, then buy elsewhere, often resulting in our publisher partners lamenting the diminishing return they get from independent booksellers, when in fact the spike in online and chain store sales is frequently attributable to our collective nationwide efforts.
Sorry if this sounds like a rant, especially at this time of year, but this issue is serious both in terms of reading and of community. This isn’t just about my fate, but our collective fates as readers and as members of this wonderful community.