where do you get your books?

Today’s subject is independent booksellers.

I found an interesting article in yesterday’s issue of Shelf Awareness. For your sake I’m giving you the whole article here since there’s no direct link, although you can find it along with other news at the link above. So first, from Shelf Awareness:

“Local independent booksellers are still fighting the good fight–and winning” was the headline for a Pioneer Press feature on Minneapolis-St. Paul area booksellers, noting: “Strong indie bookstores contributed to the Twin Cities’ rankings in Central Connecticut State University’s list of most literate cities. The annual study included six criteria, one of which was the number of bookstores per capita. Minneapolis came in third; St. Paul was seventh.”

Among the secrets to indie success cited were “hiring knowledgeable staff, selling books off-site, making available books that are hard to find in chain stores and working to become part of their communities,” the Pioneer Press wrote.

“A good local bookstore is like a good local bar, where everybody knows your name,” said Sue Zumberge, manager of Common Good Books.

The increasing importance and popularity of shop local movements was another critical factor mentioned by several booksellers.

“People are recognizing the limits of shopping online, where you have to know what you’re looking for,” said Hans Weyandt, co-owner of Micawbers Books. “My favorite thing, which happens in our store on a regular basis, is when a customer says, ‘I had no idea this book existed.’ That’s why you need a knowledgeable staff.”

Birchbark Books manager Susan White added, “This buy local-spend local trend has been building for several years, and we are benefiting from it. Customers who think about where they want dollars to go purposely come to us, even though it’s out of the way for some.”

The e-book sales option for indies is gaining national attention with the debut of the Google eBookstore. Michele Cromer-Poire, co-owner of the Red Balloon Bookshop said, “We’ve been selling e-books a long time, and with publicity surrounding the Google website, we are hoping things pick up. We want our customers to have options and understand they can get e-books from us at prices competitive with big retailers. But e-books are only a part of the mix. I don’t think picture books are ever going to go away.”

Jay Peterson, manager at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, envisions two models of independent bookstores surviving: “One model is like Birchbark and Micawbers–small, strong stores that do a great job of picking books for their neighbors and the neighbors are supportive. Our model is the other–a mix of new, used, rare and bargain books that covers a lot of price points and a lot of breadth.”

I really appreciated the bookseller’s reference to the larger buying-local movement. I think of “localism” as applying to fresh food, like produce, because from a nutritional standpoint your food will be fresher and more suited to your climate if you buy locally; but of course the larger issue is economic and political. Supporting local and/or small businesses is an admirable cause, and I subscribe to the concept, but I could certainly do a better job, in practice, of supporting my local Whatever-It-Is. (By the way, shameless plug, for a local Houston bike shop I recommend Bikesport.) And in the world of BOOKS this makes at least as much sense as, well, anything else I can think of. I’m a little bit perturbed at e-readers… I’m rather a Luddite, very late to email and cell phones but here I am with this blog and this website, don’t get me started… and I DO see the advantages, really I do. But I am adamant that the printed book is NOT dead, nor should it be, nor am I even that worried. There are just too many times a person needs a BOOK.

But where are we getting our books these days? I stay aware of this issue mostly thanks to Shelf Awareness, which as I’ve said before covers bookselling more than it does libraries, and often beyond my level of interest; but this little article really drew me. Your local book store is important! Again as mentioned by some of the booksellers interviewed, one way in which your LBS (that’s local book store in this case, although I’m more accustomed to it being local bike shop) is important, is in having rare or used books. (I shop for books almost exclusively at Half Price Books.) But the other way in which the LBS is indispensable is in personal relationships: knowing you, knowing your tastes, making recommendations. (Another crossover concept from the local bike shop.)

I want this to be a personal appeal: go shop at your local book store! But I would be a little bit of a hypocrite, you know why? I don’t shop for books much. I don’t think I’ve bought a book in ANY book store for a year! (Maybe once or twice.) I work in a library, which provides a seemingly infinite tempting array of more than I could ever read; and when I need something specific I don’t have, there’s the larger Houston Public Library system, just ready and waiting to serve me. For free. (That is if the budget cuts don’t get them. Don’t get me started.) So really, I don’t buy much from anybody. :-/

Where do you get your books?

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