Digital Killed the Paperback Star…or did it?

time cover July 11.jpgNote: I wrote this article a year back, in the time since, independent book stores are continuing their resurgence. Don’t believe me? That’s fine, but please take the time to check out this compilation of reference articles from the American Booksellers Association. More than fifty articles are listed: Independent Bookstores are Thriving

July 3rd, 2016

My weekly Time magazine came in the mail a couple days ago. The cover shouted in red, white, and blue letters, “240 Reasons to Celebrate America Right Now.” I was holding Thor (my baby boy), so I ended up flopping it open on kitchen counter with my free hand. I read articles out loud to him; if he cries, I know the article is boring. Nestled in the centerfold was the title of the 64th reason to celebrate: The death of the bookstore was greatly exaggerated. I read it out loud, and Thor giggled. Okay, maybe he didn’t, but that would of been a nice hook, huh?

The article, written by Lev Grossman, provides a brief snapshot of how independent bookstores are doing. The outlook was pleasing. Here are some takeaways and why it should matter to you as writers and as readers.

Independent bookstores are doing better than some media sources reflect in their reporting. According to the article bookstores have been growing in numbers steadily for the last seven years. Climbing from 1,712 all the way to 2,311 (Grossman cited the American Booksellers Association for these numbers). The growth was attributed  largely to new technology making inventorying libraries easier for small businesses and social media allowing for low cost advertising.

The next reason for this growth jumped out at me; these independently ran bookstores operate in a niche market. Grossman provided a quote from one independent shop owner (Brian Lampkin, owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, N.C.) who stated, “We’re letting Amazon and Barnes & Noble take care of the best sellers. Where are you going to get poetry? Some Barnes & Nobles you walk into, you’re lucky to find Emily Dickinson.”

This quote brings me to my first point.

bookstoreamersterdam.jpgAs indie authors, citizen writers, and artists, why wouldn’t you go and support those who exist to support you? 

If you are a writer of any medium, you should be walking into the local bookstore and seeing what they have going on. You may not be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King (yet), but in your town or city, you might be the best thing since sliced bread. Even better, these struggling businesses want you to talk about your work with customers; they want poetry readings; they want the local flavor to come in and mix and mingle. It’s a powerful tool to reach out from beyond the glow of our computer screens.

I have indie author friends who made sure to go to local bookstores and get their work up on the shelves. I know from the Instagram photographs, Facebook posts, and conversations we’ve had, that seeing their work sitting in a bookstore shelf was one of the highlights in their journey.

print is dead.jpgPrint isn’t dead.  Digital may have punched it in the face, but it’s still in the game. Grossman provides an interesting statistic. “Last year the share of e-books
(at least the non-self published kind) actually receded to 24%. The book market appears to have rebalanced itself into a complex mix of paper and digital, with neither format completely dominating…”.

This is an important thing to consider when you decide what formats you are going to produce. I know plenty of indie authors who only sell e-copies of their work. The worry is they won’t be able to recuperate the costs of printing. But perhaps the tides are changing and there could be profit to go to print? Even if it is just a limited print. Especially if there are local stores who are willing to let you throw down a table, do readings, and toss your books up on the shelf. It is something to consider as you move through the process.

If you want to worship, go to the temple. I urge you to go check out your local book haunt. Plenty of these places aren’t making much money doing what they are doing. To them, that’s not the point. They do it because they have a passion for print. They love the look and smell of a wall of books.

Ask yourself this: are we so different from them? Are you making millions from your writing right now? Even if you are, is that the only driving force behind your stories? To be a successful writer, I assume an element of passion must be there. Surround yourself with those equally as passionate and see your fortune rise.

Final Words: To my fellow Americans, I hope your 4th of July is great and you are surrounded by those you love. To my friends outside of our borders, please enjoy the endless videos of us crazy Americans blowing ourselves to smithereens with pyrotechnics.

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Barnes & Noble: Burning Bridges

burning bridges.jpg

Well, Barnes & Noble (B&N) is getting pulled off my Christmas Card list.  It all started with a simple phone call.  By simple, I do mean the soul shattering betrayal type.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit much.

First some backstory.

flash back.pngFLASHBACK…Flashback…flashback, to about two months ago.  My various family members, all who live hundreds of miles away, send me a stack of B&N gifts cards for my birthday.  Score!  They know I dabble in the arcane art of word-crafting and enjoy a good portal into another world.

Now normally I frequent the smaller, “mom-and-pop,” bookstores.  Because, screw the corporation man!   Not really.  I just prefer smaller spaces, shelves packed to the gills, and the scent of worn dusty books.  I like older texts.  You find all kinds of cool stuff in them.  Doodles, highlighter marks, snippets of paper, or even a handwritten note gifting the book to whoever tossed it aside under the cover.

Regardless of my normal habits, I had some $100 dollars of gifts cards to use, so off I went to B&N.

barnes-and-noble-inside.jpgB&N was just how I remembered it.  Clean.  Tidy.  Sterile.  Everything sorted and in it’s place.  Instead of the scent of old books, the air was heavy with whatever cleaner they used on the carpets combined with the latest caramel-frapa-whipa-latte-vento the attached coffee shop was pouring.

It’s not that I dislike B&N.  I appreciate any place that promotes the sale of books.  If you love B&N, that’s awesome.  For me, it’s just not an adventure.  There are hunters and there are gatherers when it comes to finding books – I prefer the hunt.  B&N is the supermarket meat section.  Everything is prepackaged and perfect.  I want to get dirty.  I want to roam the jungle with a knife in my hand wearing nothing but leaves and a smile as I stalk my prey.


sleeping.jpgI moved to the non-fiction writing section.  There might as well been a dotted line on the ground leading me there.  I looked through, snagged a few selections, and then wandered around a bit.  There were two people sleeping in blue cushioned chairs next to the magazine section.  One of them, an older man, was snoring loudly.  I understood exactly how he felt.  Convinced I had exhausted my limited patience, and daddy free time, I headed over to the checkout counter.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a B&N, but they employ the airport security checkpoint method of herding paying customers.  You have to wander through a nylon-strap partitioned maze to get to the counter.  Which was amusing, because I was the only person checking out at the time.

TSA_LINES_001905820611.jpgOnce I emerged from the labyrinth (now older and wiser, having learned an important lesson about life, and more importantly about myself), the lady behind the counter greeted me, asked me if I found everything okay, and inquired if I was interested in pre-ordering the upcoming Harry Potter book.  My wife LOVES the series (I enjoy reading them too), so I agreed.  Of course I then had to get a B&N card, fill out some paperwork (like I was getting a home loan instead of a book), and viola – book is pre-ordered.  I left with my chin up knowing I had fulfilled my husbandly duties.

flash backFLASH FORWARD…Forward…forward, to last night.

I am sitting in my sanctuary expelling evil from my body (going to the bathroom).  My phone rings, I ignore it, and ding – a voicemail.  I open it and it’s someone from B&N letting my know my book was available for pickup today.  Awesome sauce!  However, a little late in the evening for the heads-up.

They are holding it for me.

Thanks B&N, you’re the best.

There is a high demand for the book.

Really, you don’t say?  Thought that was common knowledge.  Good thing I pre-ordered it!

And if I don’t show up by the 3rd (two days from receiving the message) they will sell it to the floor.

Wait.  What?

We understand this is an inconvenience, but to provide the book in a timely manner to customers we must release pre-ordered copies after three days of the books release.

So what you are telling me is your mega-store didn’t stock enough copies so you are going to resell the book I already purchased?

Have a great day.

Have a great day?  No, no, no B&N – we are now enemies you and I.

And that is the story of how B&N got removed from my Christmas list.  They were added to a different list.  My shit list (sorry for the vulgarity, but hey, I’m a Sailor).

Shady Salesman.jpgThis exchange is exactly the reason why I feel so disconnected from society sometimes.  I can’t go anywhere to buy something without someone trying to get me to sign up for a card, join an email list, or some other nonsense.  My money isn’t enough.  They have to try to sell me something else.  Then when I bite, something like this happens.

When it comes down to it, I’ll get the book today.  I’ll take time out of my schedule, strap Thor down, and wander over to get the book I already bought before they sell it out from under me.  Heather will be happy.  I’ll be happy as a result.

As for Barnes & Noble – they won’t miss me.  The store will remain how I remember it.  Clean.  Tidy.  Sterile.  Devoid of adventure and absent another customer.

small bookstore.jpgNot really a writing tip today.  More of a life tip.  A while back I wrote a blog post about print being dead, here.  In it, I talked about the misconception that bookstores were dying out.  The truth is, small bookstores are on the rise.  They are run by people passionate about writing.  Places where an indie author can wander in with a box of books, and get them up on the shelves.

If this new experience taught me anything, it’s that I should have never left my local book haunt and wandered into the sterile convenience of B&N.  Never trade adventure for easy passage.  Never worship in a temple where the worshipers are asleep and snoring loudly.

We will kick it back off with writing tips tomorrow.  Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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