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 I remember one or two fellow students in graduate school who raised eyebrows when they saw me reading “outdated” books--not classic texts from ancient Greece, of course, but philosophy books written perhaps 20 years before the time I was reading them.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 Technologies may become outdated (and I’m not entirely sure even of that), but ideas rise again and again from their own ashes, rediscovered by each new generation of readers.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?