Thursday, June 24, 2010

Going Out For Business

The bailiff's locks are on the doors of Sophia and This Ain't The Rosedale Library, and everybody wants to know, Are you guys next? Should I come up and cash in my trade slips?

Well, don't run. Six months in, 2010 looks like it will be quite a bit busier than 2009, which in turn was busier than 2008, & etc. Both shops are packed to the gills with interesting stuff. Most stores in town aren't doing much cash buying and sending everyone who wants cash for their books on over. Yesterday at Main Street we added 500 or 600 new books to the shelves, and there was nothing unusual about that Wednesday, just a steady stream of people with interesting stock for sale, and more of the same going back out the door.

Lots of online commentators think that Amazon's gonna kill everybody, or that it's all Costco's fault, or that indie bookstores are full of snarky assholes and don't provide coffee, couches, free wireless, and tables where you can play World of Warcraft for hours (My first thought: a teenage boy's bedroom is not a viable business model). And my hunch is that rabid and iPad fans aren't my customers and probably aren't any other independent bookstore's, either. So, no loss there.

If you want to look at the root causes of the recent contraction of the North American bookselling industry, you might examine:

1. Publishers who were more than willing to extend far-too-generous discounts and return terms to Amazon, Chapters, Costco & etc., who now find those terms onerous, but can't get out of them, because those same huge retailers now make up too much of the publishers' business.

2. Too many bad books; that is to say, books no one will give a shit about 12 months from now; books that we and every other surviving used bookstore will refuse to purchase for cash or credit when offered for sale. Sarah Palin's autobiography; teen vampire books; NASCAR cookbooks, etc. This stuff has a shorter shelf life than a jug of milk in the hot back seat of a car.

3. Useless Canadian book distributors who routinely back order major titles (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? How can Raincoast Books and Penguin Canada both be out of this book simultaneously?); continue to charge an absurdly high US-vs.-CDN$ markup; and have enjoyed a culturally protected monopoly for years at the expense of Canadian consumers and retail booksellers.

4. Bookstore managers and employees who've never heard of teh intardnets, and can't accept that their customers often know more about what they're looking for than they do. Running a used or new bookstore without a computer in the shop -- hell, without several computers in the shop -- seems to me to be about as productive as performing brain surgery by candlelight.

Anyway, we're still here; both stores are full of great stuff; and we are always happy to obtain any currently in-print book for you, always at 20% off, sometimes at even more. It was our 10th anniversary on June 12th. No special fanfare, just another day of buying, selling and trading books. (Though we are planning a big public celebration in September; stay tuned!) Hopefully we'll be around for a long time to come.