Monday, October 20, 2008

My Dream Bookstore

Wow, I was really crabby on Friday, wasn't I? I guess I started feeling like the entire publishing world was out to get me -- the publishers wouldn't want my books because I've never been on a reality TV show, the booksellers would be mad at me because I send readers to Amazon (never mind that most of those booksellers don't actually carry my books) and then readers were pirating my books and putting them up for free download. I suppose that's enough to make anyone a raving paranoid, and if you're a raving paranoid to start with, there's no hope of retaining a rosy outlook.

A reader pointed out this blog post about some book industry realities that matches my view that, for some of us, there wasn't really any lost golden age of independent bookselling. I think I like the description in the comments of the "Frumpy Fiftysomething's Used Books and Quiet Desperation Emporium" almost as much as anything actually in the post.

I've been thinking all weekend about what my ideal bookstore would be, and really, I just want a decent selection and staff that don't get snooty with me about what I read. I like the idea of an older building full of nooks and crannies, like Blackwell's in Oxford. The comfy chairs and coffee shop are an option because I don't do a lot of loitering in the store. I generally know what I want, go find it, buy it and leave. If I were to open a bookstore, first, it would have to be in walking distance from my house. I might take the space that used to be a sports bar in the shopping center where the library is. That might not be a good location, since I don't recall ever seeing a bookstore near a library, but the way I look at it, you could get some synergy. After all, it would be located in a high-traffic area frequented by people who like books, and the library would practically serve as an adjacent sampling station where people could try before they buy. Since the library makes you give the books back, a nearby bookstore would allow people to purchase keeper copies of books they love while they're still a little sad about having to give them back. You know that kids will want to take a copy of the storytime book home with them, and the library doesn't have nearly enough copies for everyone, so it would be easy for parents to go to the store after storytime and get a copy. The library also sponsors adult and teen book groups, and, again, doesn't have enough copies for everyone, so someone's going to need to buy the book. With our particular library branch, they're bad about only starting to carry a series after it becomes big (and, often, after it starts coming out in hardback), or they carry the first book but not the second. If someone goes to the library looking for something or is intrigued by a series or author but doesn't find it, a bookstore they see as they leave the library would be an obvious next stop.

I know that hardcovers are more profitable per book, but that's also where the competition is because that's where the big chains give their discounts. I'd focus more on trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks because almost nobody discounts those anymore in brick-and-mortar stores, and even Amazon no longer discounts mass market paperbacks. That puts an indy on a more even footing from the customer perspective. I'd take advantage of the opportunity of not being beholden to co-op placement and shelve like a supermarket, with the high-demand bestsellers placed so that you have to go by a lot of other books to get to them, then mostly use those books as centers for displays of "if you like this, you might also like these" books. I think that's where indies have a competitive advantage, in stocking the books that you might never find in a chain store, not so much because the chain doesn't carry them but more because they're practically invisible in a chain, with one or two copies shelved spine-out. People will generally go to the chain to get their discounted copies of the latest big release or Oprah pick, so the indies need to be the place they go when they're trying to figure out what to read next or trying to find a particular type of book rather than a particular title. That's where bookstore staff need to get off their literary high horses and consider what customers are looking for rather than what they think everyone should be reading.

Not that I'm planning to open a bookstore, mind you. That would be work and would take away from my writing and reading time. But I have considered maybe doing a virtual bookstore page on my web site, doing that "if you like this, you'll like this" thing and link to Amazon, getting into the Amazon affiliate program for the links. I doubt it would make me that much money, but it might draw traffic to my web site as people found out about it. Hmm. I'll have to think about that. It would also be work.

And because this can't be repeated enough, remember that if a bookstore you visit doesn't have the book you're looking for, ask someone who works at the store. Chain or indy, they'll probably be willing to order it for you. That benefits you because it makes your life more convenient as you don't have to go from store to store to find it. But as the big chains cut their orders of midlist books, it also helps the author because if enough people ask for a book, the chain may realize the error of its ways and start carrying it (B&N really cut their order of my third book, but it looks like they got a lot of requests because their order of the fourth book went back up, so it does work). Plus, even if the ownership of the store isn't local, the people who work there are, and keeping that store afloat saves their jobs. The fallacy of the "don't shop at chains" argument is that if a chain store closes, the chances of an independent springing up from the rubble are pretty slim. You'll just lose that chain store, and then where will you shop?

But my weekend did improve. I did the neighborhood 5K and survived (with some soreness). There were kids and dogs, some of them in costumes. The high school cheerleaders gave us a send-off at the starting line. I just walked -- well, marched, really, as I realized I was doing the 60-inch stride at 120 beats a minute march tempo. Once I realized that, I started mentally singing marches we'd played in high school band, then went on to a few Sousa classics and ended up with the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back stuck in my head (that's very good marching music). And then I promptly undid any of the good I did by walking 5K when they had breakfast tacos and Krispy Kreme donuts at the finish.

Sunday I got a lot of work done, and then my weekend really ended on an up note when My Anchorman did fill-in duties on the Sunday newscasts. He's done something different with his hair and was even cuter. Sigh. And then I had a dream about meeting him. No, not that kind of dream. It was actually pretty realistic, in that I met him at some kind of festival when the festival organizer brought him over to introduce him to me, just as I was taking a bite of some greasy, messy food. Because with my luck with men, that's exactly the kind of thing that would happen. I'd meet my long-term crush from afar when I have grease smeared all over my face.

No comments: