Requiem for the Independent Bookstore

The newsletter of one of our local independent bookstores called for anti-trust investigations against Barnes and Noble's acquisition of Ingram. The argument revolves around Ingram being the primary supplier to non-chain or Internet based bookstores, and that independent bookstores are the only thing between us and a monolithic set of publishers producing mediocre material for the mass market.

With a couple of exceptions (Cody's Books in Berkeley, for instance), if I walk into an independent bookstore I'm going to see a table near the front door with the latest pseudo-lit from the New York publishers. Two summers ago it was female Indian authors, last summer it was the medieval historical murder mystery. On the other side will be a table of the non-fiction fads of the week.

Every one of these bookstores has the same monotonous trash, the Ingram best-sellers as pushed by trend-following New York agents and illiterate editors. Where's the advantage over my local superstore?

Except for a couple of Terry Pratchett novels which have, at long last, made their way across the pond to be reluctantly published by people who don't understand them for an audience that was already looking beyond the available, most of the books I've bought recently have had to be special ordered from small publishers.

Which means that my independent bookstore is falling down on the job. If they're just carrying Ingram's top list, what seperates them from being a smaller version of Borders except for a worse magazine rack?

Independent bookstores: If you want my business, pretend that you are independent. Go out there and find the self-publishers who have something original to say. Stock books which aren't the same trash I can get in every other store. Carry the small run books which are really works of art and not just the cheapest way to get words in front of me. Take cues from your customers, don't just follow Publisher's Weekly.

Because frankly, if I've got to prepay on all my orders anyway, it's a heck of a lot easier for me to have stuff shipped to my front door than to have to go to the bookstore twice with assorted phone calls in between to get books you've never heard of anyway. I'll still keep ordering from you as long as I find an excuse to browse every week, but if you don't stay with the times, you're going to lose me.

Monday, February 1st, 1999