My community is losing a bookstore, one that has supported me with great signings and staff that promoted the books year-round and provided dozens of Christmas and birthday gifts to friends and family.
The loss of yet another bookstore isn’t news to booklovers, especially authors. Nearly everyone has personally witnessed or heard about the wide-scale closing of independent booksellers across the country in the last five years. What makes my store a little different is that it is part of a national chain in a mall in a university community.
There are several factors at work in the demise of our local B. Dalton Bookstore (a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble). Malls, once thought of as the scourge of downtowns everywhere, are now dying an agonizingly slow death themselves. Our local mall is two-thirds empty of stores and entirely empty of people. Meanwhile the parking lot at the local Wal-Mart is packed with vehicles bearing university parking stickers (we’re talking faculty and staff, not students, people who are supposed to be intellectually curious and knowledgeable about the need to support community-oriented businesses).
Too often, when I ask co-workers and local fans where they buy books, the answer is not a bookstore. Many of them with the means don’t even buy books. They hit the local library or buy only used books. The reasons for avoiding the local bookstore range from it being too inconvenient (as opposed to clicking a few buttons on the computer) to new books not being worth the cost. Mind you, these answers are coming from people who generally have upper middle class incomes.
This isn’t a diatribe against Wal-Mart or Amazon. Good for them for understanding the mindset of the American consumer. I am disappointed in the consumer, though, and I’m fearful that good books will get harder to find and, therefore, harder to get published because of that mindset. As a regionally-published author, it’s difficult to get the attention of readers. The Internet is still not a truly effective means of promotion. Rather, I rely on word of mouth from fans and bookstore staff to point potential readers to my books, which appeal to mystery lovers interested in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s important to have bookstores around so people can browse the sections, pick up my book, read a page or two and decide to buy it. You can’t browse on Amazon, at least not as effectively.
Then again, there are fewer people browsing. I’m part of a dying breed of people who spend hours strolling between shelves of books, reveling in the smell, texture and font of various selections. Unfortunately, our society is focused on efficiency, cramming as much activity into one minute as possible for the least amount of money. For book buyers, that means purchasing used books on Amazon. The problem is that good books proliferate only when there is a market for new books. Buying a new book means that author gets paid a royalty, that publisher recoups its investment and that bookstore earns a profit to keep the lights on for another day.
Buying used books once in a while is fine, but when the market supports “used” more than “new,” eventually the “new” will disappear.