Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Woe is the independent bookstore?

Click image to enlarge.

Reporting on the impending closure of every local bookstore we've ever heard of seems to be a news trend that won't die. Yes, some of these magical places do close and it's devastating. I've written about it before and I am a huge supporter of local, independent bookstores and booksellers. That said, I hate the articles that come out when a bookstore is in trouble. Just like the wonderfully satiric comic above, the problem with professing outrage only when a store is on the verge of closing is that it doesn't help it pay the bills after the outcry dies down.

Last month, the wonderful Toronto institution This Ain't the Rosedale Library found itself in trouble. The little Kensington Market shop was having trouble paying its back-rent (accrued because of the recession – to my mind, a perfectly reasonable explanation). I mention this simply because the issue of bookstores closing is often equated with foundering sales, but it's often more complicated than that (which is nicely pointed out in this well-written, though oddly titled article from Saurday's Globe and Mail: Will the last bookstore please turn out the lights?)

Nevertheless, when TATRL was in trouble, book bloggers and magazines came out in support. It was awesome. People were outraged. But then, when the store didn't close, the furor died down and people assumed everything was right with the world again. Well, it's that kind of complacency that leads to these problems. There are some good ideas out there though, which is extremely heartening.

What we need to do is figure out a way to make sure these community institutions stay alive and viable. Buying our books there is certainly part of it, but it's not really enough. Buying books doesn't keep rent from going up. Neither does it keep big chain bookstores from moving in and offering fancy discounts. (Note: I am all for getting people to read, so generally I don't worry too much about discounted books, just like I don't worry too much about used bookstores undermining publishers and authors, but for a few extra dollars, supporting an independent bookstore is much better for your community.)

This is getting a little ranty. But it's mostly meant to be positive because deep down, people care about bookstores, they're just not sure how to show it on an everyday basis – most people don't buy books like they buy milk, after all. The good thing, though, is that people do buy books, lots and lots of them. So our favourite little bookstores might have to adapt a little to maneuver the rising cost of rent, but if we help them out by word-of-mouth publicity and attending special events, they should be alright in the long run.

Image shown from A Softer World by Joey Comeau and Emily Horne.

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