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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bookstore Thoughts From the Tennessee Road

All right, I’ve added IndieBound to my “Good Connections” list (check out the link called Independent Bookstores), and I’m gearing up to be optimistic about the business I’m in. It isn’t real estate, after all, or investment advising. So here I go, out on a limb to proclaim the start of a great year for books and bookstores, in general, and especially for Dog Ears Books. For starters, we the people are inaugurating a president who reads books! Then too, the air is full of new ideas and the rethinking of old ideas, and many of us will be turning to books to help sort through thoughts we’ll bring to one another in discussion. At the same time, we will be feeling a pinch in the pocketbook for a while yet, so although a new hardcover book may cost $26 compared to a movie’s $8, there is much more than 90 minutes’ worth of entertainment and food for thought in the book, and it can be passed along to a friend when finished.

David predicts happy times ahead for used books, the initial foundation of Dog Ears Books (hence the name) and still the majority of our store stock. I remember one or two fellow students in graduate school who raised eyebrows when they saw me reading “outdated” books--not classic texts from ancient Greece, of course, but philosophy books written perhaps 20 years before the time I was reading them. Sorry, friends! Technologies may become outdated (and I’m not entirely sure even of that), but ideas rise again and again from their own ashes, rediscovered by each new generation of readers. And then there are those classics, too. They have always been a staple of the book business, new and used. All grist for our mills.

The publishing business is in turmoil, so independent booksellers can hope for changes that will level the retail playing field for us. Besides drastically lowered numbers of new acquisitions in the near future, publishers (and distributors) have begun to rethink the whole notion of returns. Why should bookselling stand out in the retail marketplace when it comes to wasteful industry standards? Shouldn't book people set a better example? I’m talking about over-large print runs and unnecessary transportation costs. And why should the public have to wait a full year to be able to purchase a title in paperback? Here are changes whose time has come: smaller print runs; paperback editions either preceding or coming out simultaneously with hardcover editions; and a no-returns policy, with wider discount to retailers. Let’s stop shipping books back and forth, back and forth, extending credit so that publishers don’t get paid for months on end, and finally shredding and pulping books that can’t be sold. It’s time to bring down cost and make life easier for all concerned, from publisher to retail customer. Shall I predict these changes or just cross my fingers and hope for them?


dmarks said...

Nice post and observations.

Most of the past dozen or so books I have read have been e-books. I have decided to be a pioneer on this. I'm not sure what this will say about the future of "book" books.

I can see the doom of actual newspapers. There's a huge material waste matter to deal with there, when you think of the fact that newspapers generally aren't printed with the idea that anyone would read them past the first day.

P. J. Grath said...

Yes, newspapers are disappearing. Books are different. I remember years ago a man bringing his son to my bookstore, waving his hand to encompass all the books on the shelves and telling his son these would soon be obsolete. This man still buys books. I also remember going to a lecture in Traverse City given by an astronomer who also wrote science fiction--and you would know his name if I could remember it--and he predicted that people would soon stop traveling to be together because social gatherings could all be done in virtual space. He had flown to Traverse City from Texas. It was winter, and the auditorium at NMC was filled. It all could have been done as a teleconference--it wasn't that long ago--but people like to come together. This blogging business is not a substitute but an adjunct to social life. Myself, I hate reading on screen. Thus saying, I guess it's time for me to log off and go look for my morning coffee! Thanks for writing, dmarks. Always good to hear from you.

KimJ said...

Here's a comment that may put the heart back into all of us.

And it is about the increase in the literary life of the USA, noted this past year.

What's interesting about newspapers is that it used to be that newspapers were saved with care, read & re-read, and shared with your neighbors. It wasn't at all unusual for newspapers to still be read years later. But that was a long ago day, when travel wasn't so easy and newspapers weren't necessarily easy to come by.

P. J. Grath said...

Kim, I haven't checked out your link yet but was intrigued by your comment about newspapers in long-ago days. I hadn't thought of that. We are on our way to Florida, where three years ago I used to buy two newspapers a day, partly because I had time to read them and partly because they were so cheap, only 25 cents. The price may have gone up to 35 cents, so I'll have to choose my morning paper with care this year.

dmarks said...

KimJ: Are you sure that there was a time when a lot of people saved most newspapers?

It just seems that even a months- worth of newspapers takes up a lot of space, and if a lot of people were keeping them, houses in whatever era it was would be soon filled with newspapers.

Or maybe this was in an era when papers were much thinner, and as you implied not as many people had them.

dmarks said...

Oh. Was the lecturer named G. Harry Stein, by any chance?

P. J. Grath said...

That name doesn't ring a bell, dmarks. He was someone who had co-written a book with the famous sci-fi guy who lived somewhere in the South Pacific and whose name should be on the tip of my tongue. I'm sure it's on yours. --Arthur C. Clarke! Does that help?

About the newspapers. Long, long ago but within my lifetime, our junior high school band and orchestra launched a massive fund-raising program to get to the National Music Festival in Enid, Oklahoma. One of the many ways we raised money was collecting newspapers. A big, empty container would be left at the school until we'd filled it up, and then it would be taken away and another empty left. (This may have gone on for a year or more.) We got good local publicity, and many people called to say we could come and take away their accumulated newspapers. I clearly recall at least one garage filled to the rafters and several houses that seemed to have rooms full of newspapers. Why? That I can't answer.

dmarks said...

I've read four or so books with Gentry Lee, who collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke several times.