Monday, October 13, 2008

Support Your Independent Bookstore

It goes without saying that the economy is not good at the moment. And few of us have money to spend.

But a lot of us still buy books. Either for ourselves or for others. Books make great Christmas or birthday gifts if you know readers or you have young children in your family who are just learning to read. They aren't a "play with for an hour and toss aside" kind of gift.

But I'm not advocating you go buy books. What I am suggesting is that if you ARE going to buy books, visit your local independent bookstore.

Most independent bookstores are small businesses. And like most small businesses, times are tough. The economy's bad and there's a credit crunch. They still have to pay the distributors and publishers. They have to pay their rent, their staff, their bills. And their bottom line is already hurt by book readers buying in the big chain stores.

So, this year, as you start buying presents or buying for yourself, look for the nearest or dearest independent bookstore and shop there. In just about every independent bookstore you'll find knowledgeable booklovers who can lead you to the book you're looking for and help you find titles when all you have is the name of the lead character or the age of the protagonist. And if they don't have it, they will gladly order it for you.

You're already going to be spending the money, so why not do something that might help one independent bookstore from having to close its doors?


  1. I'm conflicted about this. My first experience with a bookstore was an independent store in St. Louis--Paul's Books. It was near Washington University and just walking in the door was like finding heaven. Visiting it became a drug. I had to have my Paul's fix. As I grew older, I found other great indy bookstores.

    But that was St. Louis. Where I live now, a relatively small town There is only one indy and she is primarily a used bookseller. She does carry new copies of books by local authors, for which I'm grateful, but used bookstores normally don't contribute to authors' bank accounts.

    Most of the books in my town are sold in chains and big box stores--B&N, Hastings, Walmart. I'd like to call them out as the destroyers of indy bookstores, but I can't because without the big chains and big boxes, there would be no booksales in rural areas and exurbia. These stores are not driving indies out of my area because indies were never there. What they are driving out is the ignorance that comes from limited access to books. They are helping authors by making books available to people who otherwise might not have them.

    I know Jeremiah Healy, whom I admire, thinks we are on the road to illiteracy because over 50% of all books are sold by Walmart, Sam's and Costco. But this is just an extension of the argument that the big box stores destroy small business wherever they go. I don't buy it. The small businesses in the small towns were not providing customers with access to quality consumer goods. If they were, they would still be thriving. The big box stores have increased access to a greater variety and better quality of consumer goods than were previously available to a large number of people.

    The same is true of books. Without the chains and big box stores many authors would lose large parts of their readership in locales not served by indies. In a perfect world, every town would have one or more independent bookstores that could provide all citizens with access to all of the world's literature, but we know that isn't realistic. Although it pains me to say it, I think authors need to be more supportive of the chains and big boxes because they are the ones getting our books out to new readers.

  2. Well said Mark. Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

    I do think big box stores are driving out some of the smaller independents, although I can't say for sure since I don't know the inside of their business. Here in Austin we used to have more indies than we do now. Their closings seem to fall not long after a B&N, Borders, or even the huge independent BookPeople opened near by.

    I shop in both the big stores and the indies. I think I get more personal services in the indies. They know their titles and their customers. But the big stores, as you say, have the selection.

    And I can see it from your perspective, the viewpoint of an author. You would want to be in the big chains, bigger independents, and of course, the mega-sellers like Walmart -- as well as in the indies. But sales come first. And you get more of those if you're carried in bigger stores with bigger clientele.

    Thanks again.

  3. The problem isn't so much that big box venues exist... it's that their prices are so low, the indies cannot compete on that level. I live in a small rural town, no bookstore in the county at all, so either have to order online or hit the city stores when I go. I would love to at least get free shipping from an indy bookstore, and probably would buy on a blog book tour, for example, if there was a link to an independent bookstore and maybe even a perk like free shipping. Right? Don't see that happening much though. Is that an opportunity missed?


  4. A worthy admonition. Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble will make it through the recession JUST FINE, but the little people need help. Good post.

    Hey Helen, if ya catch a fee minute visit FS today, I'd be interested in the Q's YOU'd come up with for a writing challenge for me. You'll see.

    That's if ya got time. And you totally don't have to. But if you can. And don't worry if you can't - I mean I might not even be there. LOL

  5. Sorry, Helen, that was me wrote that last comment - my friend Stanley is visiting and I was logged into blogger on his account. Having a senior moment (smile)

    But you're still invited! (grin)

  6. Dani -- Free shipping is always a plus. It for sure entices me.

    Stanley, aka Marvin -- I actually stopped by Free Spirit early this morning, but didn't didn't comment. Bad Helen! In my defense, it was early and coffee had not kicked in.

  7. I work with independent bookstores every day, so I obviously I "have a dog in this fight," as the saying goes. So with that disclosure, a few thoughts.

    1. If you are lucky to have an indie bookstore in your community, please talk with them. If you are happy with them, tell them, and tell them why. If you are not satisfied, tell them that, to, and why. The advantage of an indie store is that they can respond to comments and suggestions without layers of management and board approval. They may not always think that your recommendations are the best thing for their business, and so may not implement those changes, but they will at least listen. I am encouraging more bookstores to blog and interact in online communities so that this conversation is easier to start and continue.

    2. Indie bookstores may not have as many books as a chain bookstore, but please know that every single book in that store has been hand-selected by someone who lives and/or works in your community. Believe me -- I live it every day. Book by book, catalog page by catalog page, a decision to carry or not carry a book is made by the store's buyer(s). There were over 400,000 books published last year, and nobody can carry them all. An indie bookstore has (we hope) a carefully-edited and curated selection of those books that are determined by the community needs and wants, as evidenced by conversations with customers, awareness of the community, and previous purchases by store customers.

    3. Many people like to attend author events, readings, and other happenings at independent bookstores. These can only continue if the bookstore is healthy and thriving.

    I'm not saying that you should support your local bookstore out of some charitable notion, but rather, if they are not meeting your needs, tell them why. If they are meeting your needs, tell your friends. I'm saddened by the few reviews of indie bookstores that exist online at places like, google local, etc. Let's see more chatter about independent bookstores, and how they can truly be a wonderful center of the community.

    Helen, thanks for the opportunity to put in my .02.

  8. Thank you Ann. I'm glad you stopped by to add the Independent bookstore point of view.

    The indie bookstore closest to me that closed was called A Thirsty Mind. I enjoyed going to shop there, meet friends or attend author events. The setting was intimate and you could sip a glass of wine while the author spoke. The owner remembered my name and made suggestions of new authors because she knew what kind of books I liked.

  9. I shop for books online at Powells, a big indie in Portland that carries new and used and offers free shipping on all orders over $50.

  10. Thank you for that information, LJ. I've heard of Powells, but have never bought from them.

  11. Hmmm, this is a tough one, Helen. I very rarely buy from the big brick and mortar stores, instead buy almost exclusively from Amazon. I like the option to put books in my cart and have them there 3 years later in case I still want them :) That being said, I'd love to have a cozy little bookstore nearby... guess that's what I get for living rural!

    People are very value-conscious in this day and age. If independent bookstores want to compete, they have to provide value. They may not be able to compete on price, but they can compete on other things. It's just like starting out as an author - you may not have the big name to bargain with, but you have more maneuverability than a famous author. If you put in the effort, the readers will come (I hope?)

  12. Well, Emma, keep the rural. I used to be. Until about a year ago. Now we're city with a huge mall, a huge shopping center, offices,2 Starbucks, apartments, condos & more stoplights than any bump on the road should have. And a Barnes & Noble.

    I'd rather be the bump.

  13. The hard part is finding an independent bookstore around these days. We used to have two in town, but they went out of business.

    Morgan Mandel

  14. Hi
    As an author who's written both for the big publishers and now for my own very small press, and as a small press publisher for the past eight years, my beef with indies is: they don't treat their fellow small business owners (publishers) with the respect and flexibility needed to do business. Small press titles get little to no attention in indies, and booksellers are totally resistant to any system other than the high-discount returns process, which is a killer for most small presses. I love to browse a great bookstore but I'll continue to do most of my shopping on Amazon, where, hey, I can find not only my own titles but all the titles I publish.

  15. Thank you Debb. I so appreciate hearing from you -- another side of the issue.

    I love that so many diverse people came by to give their opinion. I've learned a lot.

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