Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Actual Bookstores are Way Cool

Credit: AP
You know, I won't deny that I've benefited financially as an author from online sales of my books in electronic format, especially through Amazon. Since Amazon is a mammoth online retailer, what would you expect? Chopped liver?


However, that doesn't mean I agree with the recent article in Slate, that actually argued against supporting local booksellers in favor of Amazon. Seriously? WTF?



Why can't they all co-exist? Real brick and mortar bookstores have their benefits, don't they?

Yes, they do. And this article talks about that.

I urge you to read the whole thing, but the intro will give you the general idea: 

On a recent evening in Washington, D.C., Kramerbooks was hopping. Getting inside meant actually shimmying past people who were chatting and poring over the stacks. There’s a restaurant in the back, but on this particular night there was no wait for a table, so it’s safe to say that the vast majority of these people were using Kramerbooks as a place to hang out.

Two doors down, at Beadazzled, a bead and jewelry shop, no such crowd could be found. Both stores are independently owned, well-liked local institutions that have been in D.C. for decades. But Kramerbooks is a hive of ebullient chatter on any given night and Beadazzled isn’t. Why do bookstores so often become magnets for bustling urban activity?

Bookstores enjoy a rare trait: To many, the store itself is seen as at least as important to the community as the product it sells. There are several reasons for this, which is why a Slate story published earlier this week called “Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller” has sparked a small online uprising of indignant bookworms. In the story — so paint-by-numbers counterintuitive that it almost reads as a parody of a Slate piece — Farhad Manjoo argued that people should buy books on Amazon and let independent bookshops wither. “Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you,” he writes.

Authors and economists can duke it out over the first two claims. But “better for you” is a lot of B.S.  if you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has a quality independent bookstore. (And if you live in the suburbs, I bet it’s hard to find a parking spot by your local Barnes & Noble on a Friday night, just as it was at Borders, before bad business decisions pushed it into bankruptcy.) Unlike almost any other kind of retail establishment, bookstores operate as quasi-public neighborhood trusts that give city dwellers more than they receive in return. Like art galleries, they’re a free-of-charge indoor urban venue where you can make yourself comfortable without being expected to eat something, drink something, or even buy something.

This is why the most-loved bookstores tend to hang on: Kramerbooks and Politics & Prose in D.C., The Strand and McNally-Jackson in New York, Skylight and Book Soup in Los Angeles, Tattered Cover in Denver, Book People in Austin, Texas — the list goes on. Their patrons are numerous enough that even if only a fraction of them make a purchase it adds up to a profit. That doesn’t really make them like Whole Foods, as Manjoo suggests. Yes, both Whole Foods and independent bookstores provide a luxury shopping experience, but bookstores provide a cooperative aspect that goes well beyond that. No one goes to Whole Foods just to soak up the atmosphere — everyone’s ultimately there to buy quinoa and ramps. Bookstores, on the other hand, function as communal spaces, which makes them valuable urban amenities.

Nice rebuttal!


Besides (and in my own experience), how are you going to buy a decent espresso (at a place that reminds you of Italy) or get to hear a really great author give a talk before a signing on Amazon? Hmm? :)

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