B&Ns are closing all over the country, reports Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson, and we should be sad about it. He goes on to explain why we should be sad, how this is going to affect the industry, and why, even though there’s still a market for print books, they’re in danger because the industry is no longer equipped to respond to what consumers want.
I read this post yesterday and then went out into the world to do some post-Christmas shopping for my Capricorn-birthday loved ones. This is always a sad time in big stores — the spring merchandise isn’t in yet and the marked-down holiday sparkly sweaters that seemed glamorous two weeks ago are revealed to be tacky now that they’ve moved from the the front of the store to the back. I passed the textbook Barnes and Noble with its distinctive older signage - the vertical “BOOKS” sign on the northeast corner of 5th and 18th. This was the store where I bought all my used college textbooks and it has been a slightly shabby used-textbook location of B&N for a while, but it was the chain’s New York flagship and has been open since 1932. Yesterday one of the two window displays was devoted to a celebrity decor book and one was devoted to the Nook. It may persist longer than the other locations because New School and Fordham and BMCC students will still need textbooks, but soon, within the next couple of years, it will no longer be a Barnes and Noble.
When you’re walking down 5th Avenue it’s nice to see a sign, the kind of sign that usually says BAR or LIQUOR, that says BOOKS.
I finished my shopping and went to have coffee with a friend from college who is publishing her first book this year. We talked about how one of the problems she is setting out to address in her book, which is about DIY entrepreneurship and making an arts career sustainable, is that a lot of artists and writers don’t seem to care or notice that the cultural structures their work exists within are in imminent danger. I said I thought a lot of authors think “Well, as long as publishing continues to exist to publish my special book, I don’t care what happens to publishing.” I mean, no one actually says this. But I think it’s how a lot of us feel. I realized while I was saying this that the reason I’m so sure this is a real attitude is because it’s how I used to think about my own career. ”I will just be the exception; the whole thing can crumble as soon as it is done with its essential work of making my book available to the world.” As though the publishing industry was Charlotte and my first book was a big egg case filled with tiny spiders.
Needless to say I no longer think this way and so when I see evidence around me that other people do it’s extra galling to me because I recognize my own worst self in their behavior. Instead it should make me compassionate, I guess, because of course I get it. It’s a lot easier to be selfish, to be an artistic libertarian who decides “I will just concern myself with making my work and I’ll just hope and pray there’s still some kind of an apparatus in place to edit, design, produce, market, distribute and sell it when it’s done, or else imagine that I’ll be able to do all those things myself better than professionals who have devoted their careers to those disciplines.” We think this way since it’s not immediately apparent that there’s anything else we can do. What other choices do we have?
There are choices we can make as consumers and as members of a creative community. A lot of the stuff I’m about to mention might seem very obvious. It’s definitely stuff you’re already doing. Let’s resolve to do more.
1. Buy books. New and old books, print books and ebooks, hardcover and paperback books, used and brand-new books.
2. Buy books from all kinds of stores.
3. Borrow books from libraries.
4. Recommend books. Use social media to discuss your reading. Use book clubs to discuss your reading. Use conversations with friends to discuss your reading. If you think someone you know would particularly like a book, tell her. Give her the book as a present or take it out from the library and hand it to her.
5. Thank people who have recommended books to you.
6. Read and write about books.
7. When writing about books online, don’t default to linking to a particular book retailer when mentioning the book. A lot of literary sites always link to Amazon because by doing this they get some amount of money via the Amazon Affiliates program. I believe that these sites should reevaluate their business models.
My current default is to link to Goodreads, but it’s probably even better to mix it up.
8. Diversify your sources of book recommendations. Start reading a different magazine or blog of book reviews.
9. Start a book club. And join ours. :)