Saturday, June 1, 2013

editorial: bookstore-pocalypse

            In light of recent events, a message must be shared, a message that impacts readers tall and short, young and old, few and far between. Yes, the bookstore-pocalypse is upon us! If you're reading this, it means the time has come:  the books we have anticipated for months (and have consequently landed on our "Waiting for Wednesday" posts) are not landing on shelves of "a store near you." Why? The economy is a hard place, filled with starving cats and dogs, not nearly enough money, and oodles of sorrow. In short, book stores can't afford to keep every title on hand across the nation.
            This problem came to my attention when Sarah Ockler, acclaimed YA author of Twenty Boy Summer and Bittersweet, to name two, wrote a blog post about her most recent release The Book of Broken Hearts not being cast as a pine-rider this season on Barnes & Noble's nationwide shelves. The post can be found HERE. I urge you to read it; it's devastating, and yet she handles the situation with such grace. Go, Sarah!
            Back to the point. Now, there are more factors than just a tough economy going on here. I would be in remiss if I didn't mention the fact that technology has a large say in this depression-inducing revolution, too. You can order, buy, and even download novels straight from your electronic device these days, in case you were living in a cave and didn't know. While convenient for some, it's a real pain for others. People like me, the ones who LOVE physical copies of books and long walks on the beach (and won't give it up) can't access given titles at a moment's notice anymore.
            Now, I know what you're saying. "Those days are behind us," says little Ricky, the 5-year-old who reads Dr. Seuss on his iPad as he strolls into the sunset while recording a Vine and sending it to 4 year-old love interest Charlotte up the street. It doesn't pay to have a physical store when you can just sell stuff online and cut a lot of infrastructure costs in the process. It's enabled by the aforementioned technology boom. Well, color me old-fashioned, but I have a hard time letting go of the fact that someone can walk into a bookstore and buy a physical story that can change their lives right then and there. Oh, and there are a lot more people where I came from as well.
            You want proof? Look around you, bookseller CEOs. Why do we still have cities? Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned in the 1930s that by now we would not even travel to a place of employment, but rather we would do all our communicating and such with great new technology like video phones. We wouldn't even have to leave the house! The funny thing looking back on the predictions is this:  we have a lot of the crazy things he envisions, yet we still have central business districts; we still have skyscrapers; in suburbs, we have malls. People WANT to be together, go figure. They want to browse for books with friends. They want to grab a coffee and take their time actually walking around, picking up books, and reading the back covers. Against all odds, people still want bookstores to be around.
            So there's a demand. But where is the supply? Small and locally owned bookstores are having a hard time keeping their doors open, and it's for the same reason general stores continue to go out of business:  the national chain stores (for example, Wal-Mart) create a monopolistic corner of the market. In the book industry, stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble are doing just that. But... oh wait... they're struggling, too. Go to; it forwards you to Barnes & Noble's website because Borders closed, which was traumatizingandIdon'twanttotalkaboutit. *Gasp for air.* And now word's out that Barnes & Noble is going all "public school system" on us and doing some major budget cuts. This fact is brought up in the post written by Ockler above. So what does the future of the book industry look like? If the Wal-Mart equivalents are making major cuts or closing, small businesses are having a hard time not collapsing, and even public libraries are being cut across the nation, is the era of the bookstore coming to an end? Is this one of the only industries that won't survive the great sector shift of the 2000s?
            Readers, it is not the time to sit around with that passive aggressive behavior reading books on your couch, but you may continue after you do just a few things. Here's a list of things that you can do to help the bookstore-pocalypse from progressing:

1. Buy books off the shelf and support your favorite authors. Whether local or chain bookstores, make a point to do this. Show bookstore owners that they need to order your favorite authors' books. Authors are nothing without you, and we readers are close to nothing without them.
2. Start an electronic coup. Take to Facebook, Twitter, Websites, Goodreads, Personal Blogs, or whatever and let companies like Barnes & Noble know that you want a certain author's book on their shelf. Write reviews for the books, let everyone know that you're reading it and want to continue having the opportunity to shop for these books in a physical store. And that's right, you CAN tweet @ anyone who has a Twitter account, including Barnes & Noble.
3. Tell your library they should have a copy of the book. If it's on their shelves, more people can read it. When more people can read it, they may consider buying the author's next book.
4. Buy a couple copies of your favorite author's book. Some people aren't readers, but a great book is a gateway drug. Especially with series and authors, people chain-read books like no one's business. I'll have to post sometime about last year's Sarah Dessen obsession. It was kind of pathetic, but in a great way... like in a four 500-page books in three weeks sort of great way.

Authors are counting on you, and we're counting on them. We shouldn't let each other down.

'Til next time!

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