Friday, May 26, 2006

Everybody shares notes

Within a week, both Slate and the Village Voice post articles bemoaning troubled times for independent booksellers.

Actually, neither really spends much time "bemoaning." Tyler Cowan on Slate pretty much seems to say that independent bookstores have an inflated sense of their own importance (which is probably true), and that they often make economically irrational decisions. (One indie bookstore owner is quoted saying that he doesn't discount books not because he can't but "as a way of reflecting. . . their worth as cultural artifacts.") In the Village Voice, Paul Collins points out that small bookstores have been "dying" at least since department stores added book sections at the end of the 19th century, but that in recent years the chains have done a good job of integrating the innovations of other retail outlets, large and small, into a near optimal mass book browsing experience, and that various idiosyncrasies of the bookselling business—returnability, and tax incentives that lead publishers to remainder books now rather than keep and sell them at full price later—give the megabookstores additional advantages over smaller sellers.

Even my own beloved local "indie" bookstore, Schuler Books, is really just a privately owned mini-chain, down to the fact that they use a computerized inventory system leased from one of the big two mega-chain booksellers.

I wish I could say that was more the wave of the future--locally owned bookstores that make use of the advantages of the large bookstores while maintaining their own personality--but I fear that Schuler is a bit of an anomaly. The mega-chain doesn't lease their inventory system anymore, and the other mega-chain seems to look forward to the day when they only sell books from their own in-house publisher.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Have you seen/heard John Updike's speech in retort to "Scan This Book" in praise of the small bookseller?

Washington Post story

Audio Recording of Updike's speech