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Another one bites the dust?
June 23, 2010 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Beloved Toronto independent bookstore This Ain't the Rosedale Library is at risk of closing. A rallying of the community might stay the execution, but what happens next?

As bookstore after bookstore closes down or struggles to survive, it becomes clear that a new model is needed if independents wish to remain sustainable in the age of Amazon. Many in the community are calling for a CSA-style subscription for patrons; others are calling for for tighter restrictions on discounts, following the regulations in France.

Whatever happens, it will be a sad day indeed if Toronto loses an institution once named by the Guardian as one of the top 10 bookshops in the world.
posted by Felicity Rilke (69 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by lukemeister at 8:46 AM on June 23, 2010


I'm pretty sure Clovis, the Brooklyn bookstore on that Guardian list, is now closed as well.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:47 AM on June 23, 2010


Er, not "as well," since TATRL is not actually closed...
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:48 AM on June 23, 2010


Joey Comeau of A Softer World offers his take. (Scroll down to his grinning mug for an anecdote about the bookstore in question and one about book retail in general).
posted by reegmo at 8:51 AM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I just saw this, terrible news. Eyesore Video (above Rotate This) may be next - apparently, hardly anyone is going out this week because of the G20.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:52 AM on June 23, 2010


Man, what a bummer. Sucks to see this happen to bookstores instead of prisons and fast-food places. I really hope they find a way to stay.
posted by heyho at 8:53 AM on June 23, 2010


Ugh, I hadn't heard about Eyesore's troubles, though it doesn't surprise me.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:54 AM on June 23, 2010


Those regulations in France are ridiculous. The reason Amazon is successful is because it understands that people would rather save a few dollars, or even a few cents in some cases, even if it means having to wait a few days for your purchase. In other words, Amazon knows that for a majority of book buyers, everything that bricks and mortar bookshops have to offer (immediate possession of your purchase, easier browsing, atmosphere, etc.) can't compete with a modest discount. What is being further revealed by the market is that the lovers of bookshops aren't willing to pay a premium for what those bookshops offer.

In other words, if a publishers marks a book at $9.00, are the Bookshop die-hards willing to pay an extra $1.50 for that book for the privilege of buying it in a bookstore.

tl;dr - bookshops are convenience stores for books. Expect to pay convenience store prices to shop for books there, or expect the store to close.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:55 AM on June 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


My guess... actual libraries will come back into vogue; not just as internet access and a clean washroom to the less fortunate, but as a source for much sought literary material that bypasses the 2-3 day delivery (provided you don't have to interlibrary loan it, which will usually end up 3 days max, anyhow).

However, I think it is less the fault of the bookstores themselves, but more the fault of the publishing business model which, by all accounts, is appalingly archaic. Even consignment has its downside... if the book doesn't sell, it still hurts the store; as they had to staff the time spent stocking and unstocking the latest crap.

What if it becomes more of a market place where publishers and self-publishers can rent shelf space or pay to place a link to their eBook website on the computers linked to the store's local (and encrypted) finance server with a credit card machine for faster, more convenient purchasing (two clicks, plug in your iPad/Kindle/Nook, swipe your credit card and please take your receipt... gas station style.)?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:55 AM on June 23, 2010


Pastabagel - I'm assuming by "convenience" you're referring to the immediacy of purchase to possession of good. Because, obviously, it's more convenient to have something delivered to your door than to drive to a store... it's the wait time that's the issue. I think our comments are in the same ballpark, I just presented a different paradigm for their business model (which may or may not be a good idea).
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:58 AM on June 23, 2010


Snarky comment in the form of a photo-comic:
Oh no, another local independent bookstore is closing!
If I sound horrified enough,
I won't feel guilty for never buying anything.
(We only have everyone else to blame.)


On preview, see reegmo's comment.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:59 AM on June 23, 2010


I'll be honest the problem I think has to do more with the long tail in book buying. Before amazon I might have compromised and bought some book I didn't really want locally. Now I can buy the book I actually want from amazon. But the independents (or heck the chains) don't carry the books I *actually* want, and if I want to order them from the independents I'll pay 20% more, have to come pick the books up, and get them later then I would ordering from amazon. On the other hand when I can actually find the book I want locally... I tend to buy it locally even if I pay slightly more.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 8:59 AM on June 23, 2010


tl;dr - bookshops are convenience stores for books. Expect to pay convenience store prices to shop for books there, or expect the store to close.

Indie bookstores are the convenience store equivalent, where the major chains are the MegaMart in this discussion. Indies can't get the discounts, or take the loss-leader hits, that major chains can take. Add in that Big Chains allow you to give friends and relatives from other cities/states a gift card for books and not need to contact their local indie shop.

Indies need a niche to survive. There used to be 3 or 4 bookstores in the local downtown area, and now all but one have died off, yet in the same time period a new two story Borders that went into a newly redeveloped block. The one remaining indie shop is by-and-large a used book shop, undercutting Borders on things you can find, as well as carrying some fantastic old editions for a higher cost (I was lusting over an early Land of Oz collection of books a few months back).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:09 AM on June 23, 2010


...bookshops are convenience stores for books...

That's a great way to put it. I go to bookstores typically only on holiday, and generally for the same reason: because I failed to plan and ran out of sunscreen books to read and I know I'll be spending the rest of the day on the beach burning up bugging my S.O. with middling conversation.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:10 AM on June 23, 2010


I patronize my local, pseudo-indie bookstore on a semi-regular basis largely because they always have oodles of sale books in genres I'm interested in -- it's as close as I come to impulse shopping. Although I'm happy to combine the sale price with my membership discount in order to get a competitive price (relative to Amazon, etc.) on a book I can open immediately, I rarely buy new books there. Instead, I snap the new releases with Amazon Remembers and almost invariably order them online for less than I would pay in-store.

I suspect this kind of consumer behavior makes me a Part of the Problem. I'm also not going to change, and have a hard time feeling guilty about it. I think that a lot of the grief about local bookstores comes down to the understandable worry that some kind of social capital or quantum of civil society is lost or diminished when those stores close. Perhaps; but if you're really worried, your time is better spent (and the net increase in overall social capital is bigger) if you volunteer at a literacy center or your local library.
posted by a small part of the world at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2010


I swear, most of the time when I go to a bricks & mortar bookstore, the computer shows the book is in stock but it cannot be located, or else they just don't carry it. Then, they offer to order it for me, which somehow takes over a week, at which point, I can then drive back to the store, and pay full price for it, plus sales tax ...

... or I can go home, order it from Amazon, and have it in my hands the next day.

Such a dilemma!
posted by kcds at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2010


A sad situation for sure, but I have to admit, I haven't set foot in an independent bookstore in over 15 years. In my teen/college years, sure, I haunted my favorites regularly, because (a) they were great about steering me towards great/little-known books I didn't know existed or didn't know how to find; and (b) books I wanted but they didn't have, they could order for me.

Obviously, the Internet changed everything. Between blogs and Amazon, most of what I used to rely on bookstores for, I can get without having to get in my car and brave downtown traffic. The growing availability of ebooks is taking care of more and more of the "gotta have it now" appeal of physical bookstores. The only thing I ever want bookstores for nowadays is a place to sit and browse new releases while drinking coffee, and B&N/Borders meets that need adequately.

I'm definitely "for" the continued existence of independents, and I don't celebrate their decline at all, but, except for nostalgia, I can't think of a good reason for me to continue to support them financially.
posted by Pants McCracky at 9:16 AM on June 23, 2010


I understand and can't argue with the convenience of Amazon, but independent bookstores like TATRL serve a function beyond convenience -- they promote and support local and emerging authors, are a community hub for cultural events, support small, niche publishers. These are the reasons the loss of independents is unfortunate, these are the reasons independents are important to communities.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 9:21 AM on June 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


I still use physical book stores to browse graphic novels, since I like being able to look at them before I buy them.

I think one possible model would be to have an indie book store that specializes in reader advisory, maybe even going so far as having customers pay to have a "box" that gets their weekly book order in. If you had good enough RA service, and added the convenience of taking care of the ordering leg-work, then that's a service that might actually draw people.

Otherwise libraries, ebooks, and online retailers don't seem to leave much room for big box stores, much less indies.
posted by codacorolla at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2010


Dear bookstores, this is purely from a non-business-savvy customer's point of view, but here are some ideas for you.

Books wrapped in plastic are useless to me. If I wanted to buy something without looking at it first, I'd buy it from Amazon. Yes, I know if I ask you nicely you will probably unwrap it for me, but I am not going to do that, because I then I will feel bad if I don't purchase it.

Please don't pretend that the internet doesn't exist. If I see a book that looks interesting, I want to read reviews about it. If I have to go home to read the reviews on Amazon, I am just going to end up buying it from Amazon. Maybe have a way for me to look up reviews in the store, or at least don't look annoyed when I am looking up things on my phone. Offer a wireless network, please.

No, I don't need you to "special order" things for me, I can order things on the internet just fine by myself, thank you. I don't understand why so many independent bookstores promote "special ordering" as if they have some magic way to order books that is unavailable to regular people.

Have a reasonable well-designed and helpful website, please.

Maybe when I buy a book, I could be given the opportunity to wrote down on a post-it note why I am buying the book or why I like the book, and then you can put all the notes and mini-reviews from customers (and employees) on the cover of a copy of that book.

Hold book readings, have a space where writing groups can meet, have biweekly open-mic poetry nights, have a table where people can play board games, hold scrabble tournaments. In other words, create reasons for me to come into the store other than to browse books, which I can do pretty conveniently from home these days.

Have a shelf where local creative types can sell zines, chapbooks, artwork, crafty things. Have space for local artists to present their work, hold art show openings. Show video art in the windows at night.

Have writer and artist friends hide little things in random books for customers to find: short short stories, poems, comics, fortunes, coupons.

What would be really amazing, and probably would get me buying things quite a lot, is if you also had coffee. I know, I know, you are not in the coffee business, you are in the book business. But it doesn't have to be Starbucksesque coffee with all the frills, just a half decent regular cup of coffee and a place to sit. Now, if you also had some sort of system where I got a free coffee with every bookstore purchase, I might very well end up buying one or two books a week, because I am going to go get coffee somewhere anyway, and if I can get a book at the same time, that is a considerable attraction. Plus, I will bring friends - I meet people for coffee. I don't meet people to look at books. If you don't have room for this in your store, maybe you could partner with a nearby coffeeshop or something.

Disclaimer: this comment is about independent bookstores in general and is not meant to reflect any experience with This Ain't The Rosedale Library in any way, I don't live near Toronto and have never been there.
posted by oulipian at 9:32 AM on June 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


You could always support your local library, instead. Libraries need more funding and serve a greater good than chain or indie booksellers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:33 AM on June 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm lucky enough to live in a college town where a handful of independent new and used bookstores have managed to stay alive despite the B&N and Borders big boxes in the malls to the north and south of town.

It looks to me like the way some bookstores -- the used bookstores anyhow -- have done this is to tap into the same vein as Amazon, by doing a lot of online business selling rare and used books at a decent mark-up. Maybe they are even working remora-like as Amazon sellers? In any case, this allows those of us who are still old-school book browsers to enjoy our ever-rarer vice. (I have to say I know very few people other than myself and my partner who read as a daily activity; most folks are "too busy".)

Relately, I went to a new-to-me independent bookstore (new books) in the middle of the Catskills the other day while driving through and was amazed. Check out Hamish and Henry in Livingston Manor if you're driving up- or downstate on Rt 17 (follow the signs into town from the exit, it's not far and the store is right on Main St., next to a pizza parlor). Excellent literary fiction section and not too bad sf and poetry sections. [I have no connection to the store other than having spent 30 bucks there last weekend.]
posted by aught at 9:35 AM on June 23, 2010


print is dead
posted by kakarott999 at 9:38 AM on June 23, 2010


they promote and support local and emerging authors, are a community hub for cultural events, support small, niche publishers.

These seem like great reasons to have some kind of community-based hub for social literary activity, but do they justify the existence of a retail business? It sounds like the model for independent bookselling is that the purchase of books is a form of donation to a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting literature. Wouldn't it be more effective to channel that energy/funds into an actual nonprofit group dedicated to promoting literature?
posted by Pants McCracky at 9:39 AM on June 23, 2010


My guess... actual libraries will come back [...] as a source for much sought literary material that bypasses the 2-3 day delivery (provided you don't have to interlibrary loan it, which will usually end up 3 days max, anyhow).

I don't see how this will reasonably work. I've only worked in a library for a moment, but as far as I can figure your general local branch is not going to get as many copies of anything remotely popular -- the latest Dan Brown or James Patterson novel -- as demanded. The ILL for something like that isn't going to be 3 days max, in that case, unless your central branch is LA County Public or Manhattan/Brooklyn Public (the two systems with which I have experience.) Instead it's going to be a week wait, minimum, and considering library budgets are getting dramatically slashed left and right, you're inherently losing people who are saying "fuck it" and ordering it on Amazon anyway. Most libraries won't be able to handle demand nearly as well as Amazon until they figure out how to fund themselves again.
posted by griphus at 9:39 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I take great pleasure in bookstore browsing, and buy all my new books locally, often special-ordering and waiting (used books are usually from Paperbackswap.) One of the reasons I moved to Berkeley was the bookstores, and I don't want to live in a Berkeley without Moe's and Pegasus and Other Change of Hobbit and Comic Relief and Black Oak Books. (Bad enough I'm living in a Berkeley without Shambhala and Cody's and Gaia.)

But I'm neither a rich collector nor even a fast reader, and my support can't save them. I can't see a future in which physical books aren't an exceptional specialty item, dealing in which could only support maybe a couple of stores per city.

On the other hand, "out of print" will cease to have meaning, and unless maybe DRM simulates cheap acidic paper, books won't decay over time if you're responsible with your backups. The march of progress giveth, and the march of progress taketh away.
posted by Zed at 9:40 AM on June 23, 2010


No, I don't need you to "special order" things for me, I can order things on the internet just fine by myself, thank you. I don't understand why so many independent bookstores promote "special ordering" as if they have some magic way to order books that is unavailable to regular people.

It's just the mindset of 25 years ago, a formative time for many independent book sellers, before the early Internet tubes were laid out by Mr Gore et al., and subsequently incorporated wholesale into American corporate retailing.

My first glorious job out of college was at an independent college bookstore, where my full-time duties were placing special orders for books and LPs (yes, LPs) for customers. (This was 1986, I had foolishly majored in English because I love literature, and yes, I made peanuts at the job, thanks for asking; but it was a happy time.)
posted by aught at 9:43 AM on June 23, 2010


The most recent book store I've been to that wasn't a big box was: http://www.oakknoll.com/ which is 4 rare book sellers jammed into one place. I've actually thought about writing a FPP about them before... regardless, they still exist because they sell something you can't get easily (rare books and first editions), and they have an agressive online presence. The store exists for people to browse, yes, but it also exists to house their more profitable online warehousing and physical operations.
posted by codacorolla at 9:45 AM on June 23, 2010


Er, not "as well," since TATRL is not actually closed...

The landlord changed the locks four days ago. I am not sure how much more closed it can get.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:50 AM on June 23, 2010


Ms. Bareket said This Ain’t the Rosedale Library owner Charlie Huisken did business the old-fashioned way – using no computer system to track inventory and reading every single book before adding it to the shelves.

That's a nice way to manage a personal library and a horrid way to run a business.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:01 AM on June 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


No, I don't need you to "special order" things for me, I can order things on the internet just fine by myself, thank you. I don't understand why so many independent bookstores promote "special ordering" as if they have some magic way to order books that is unavailable to regular people.

many "regular people" do not have easy or regular access to the internet
posted by jammy at 10:01 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rosedale is not only a bookstore---but a place for communities of writers, artists, actors, and activists to gather. I and a number of friends have performed there. Indigo almost never has anything I want or need (as an academic, as a person interested in small market poetry, as an artist) and Indigo places for example, much less Anansi or Coach House, or Arsenal Pulp, or the like. They also have the widest collection of Canadian and other small market periodicals in the city.

It should also be noted that the first location of This Ain't the Rosedale, Pages, and several other similar businesses were shut down not because of this weird cult of indie bookstores are dead, but because landlords are assholes.

I spend as much as I can on and in indies in this city, i came to this city because it was a great bookstore town, and it feels broken up.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:03 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's a nice way to manage a personal library and a horrid way to run a business.

The first thing I learned when I became the manager/buyer of a boutique clothing store is that what I liked didn't matter a whit. The store was there to serve the desires of the customers. I don't understand how anyone can, with a right mind, run a store in such a nostalgic fashion and think they will get into the black. At the same time, I have no idea how The Community Bookstore in Brooklyn has operated for so long short of a deal with the devil himself.
posted by griphus at 10:09 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


... as far as I can figure your general local branch is not going to get as many copies of anything remotely popular...

I like to order books from my local library. I'll order all sorts or books - new releases or old stuff - and I love when I get that automated voicemail out of the blue that a book has come in for me. Of course, being automated, I never know which book has come in until I get there to pick it up. It's always like Christmas.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:12 AM on June 23, 2010


I read a lot; usually at least a couple of books a week. I used to purchase all of those and, at one time, had a personal library of about 5000 paperbacks (unfortunately, my wife doesn't consider paperbacks to be actual books). Since joining the ranks of the unemployed last year, my book buying powers are greatly diminished and now I go to the library. This isn't a perfect solution, however, because the library doesn't actually get 2 or 3 books a week that I want to read. Also, they have a tendency to not carry all the books in a series (if you want book three of a five book series you have to order it from another branch). I really hope that someday, when I have cash again, there will be bookstores. I have to say, the Amazon experience leaves me cold.
posted by DaddyNewt at 10:14 AM on June 23, 2010


I don't use Amazon to save money, I use it because most bookstores, even huge ones, don't carry the books I like to buy. Amazon does. The one brick-and-mortar store I go to is a good used bookstore where I can find out-of-print and small-press books, books I might not learn about in any other way.

print is dead

I am a mortician.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:14 AM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


For one thing, as the note from the owner states, the landlord was being uncompetitive with rents; the store was doing just fine until the recession hits, and when other stores in the neighbourhood lowered rents, this landlord just became more erratic.

But for another thing: This Ain't's function as a bookstore isn't really what I'm worried about losing here. They actually fulfills a lot of the community functions that bookstores are romanticized as fulfilling. It offers a space and an appreciation for things that few other bookstores in this city (or many others) appreciate. (Or, for that matter, libraries: I'm sorry, but libraries just don't focus on the sorts of meaty niches that This Ain't focuses on. The only other institution that does is, at its best, academia, and they aren't very good at it either.)

But even as a bookstore: I went once checking to see if there was a book that I wanted that I suspected would be there; it wasn't there. I got a library copy to hold me over until I found a copy (because this was the sort of book that This Ain't would have, Amazon.ca wasn't terribly competitive about it); next time I was in the store, there it was, on the shelf, even though I hadn't ordered it. If that isn't a good business model, I'm going to spend my money in such a way that it becomes a good business model.
posted by Casuistry at 10:14 AM on June 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


The most recent book store I've been to that wasn't a big box was: http://www.oakknoll.com/ which is 4 rare book sellers jammed into one place.

This makes me wonder if it would be at all feasible to get all the indie booksellers in a city organized under one roof as a franken-big-box collective, kind of a "book court" marketplace that would give people (meaning, me) what they typically want from B&N/Borders, while supporting local businesses. I'm sure this has been/is being done somewhere, but I would totally patronize this establishment if there were one in my town.
posted by Pants McCracky at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2010


This is not a reading series is run by the Pages crew (disclosure: their daughter is a good friend and I have stayed in their house over New Year's). It is the community service that Felicit Rilke, oulipian and others have talked about above. If you're in Toronto, you should go support them.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:19 AM on June 23, 2010


In the Portland, Oregon area Powell's Bookstores are still going strong. They're so large though, it's hard to think of them as an Indie. Still is fun to browse through 3 floors of books at the downtown store.
posted by jgaiser at 10:22 AM on June 23, 2010


If you special order a book through a bookstore, and get it sent to the store, you probably won't have to pay shipping on it, and will most likely (unless if it's something like a textbook) not have to buy it if it's not what you want.
posted by drezdn at 10:23 AM on June 23, 2010


At the same time, I have no idea how The Community Bookstore in Brooklyn has operated for so long short of a deal with the devil himself.

My understanding is that the proprietor owns (and lives in) the building, which protects him from the outrageous increases in commercial rents that have sunk so many other local businesses.
posted by keever at 10:26 AM on June 23, 2010


...that would explain it perfectly. Thanks keever. About eight years ago, his shop was on my walk to/from work, and every time I passed by this little voice in the back of my head would yell at me to go in there and beg to volunteer to just clean up the place a little. That place has a way of driving a certain type of individual absolutely insane.
posted by griphus at 10:32 AM on June 23, 2010


My understanding is that the proprietor owns (and lives in) the building, which protects him from the outrageous increases in commercial rents that have sunk so many other local businesses.

Plus his costs for building maintenance and store upkeep over the past few decades appear to have been zero. I love the place, but it's like stepping into a diseased lung.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 10:34 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where there are two somewhat-local (15 minutes by car) English-language bookstores, but the vast, vast majority of book retailers are French-only or close enough.

Before Sherbrooke, I lived in Toronto, where (at least in the mid-'90s) there were a vast array of wonderful independent bookstores.

I'm surprised at how little I miss them.

I mean, on an aesthetic level, sure. There was character, and that awesome book smell, and sometimes there was somebody to chat with at the counter or whatnot. It was nice to visit a “real” bookstore.

But when I moved here, an almost irreconcilable distance away from English-language bookstores for somebody without a car (about a two-hour round trip, via bus), I discovered that, while these bookstores were nice, they weren't at all important to me.

And I felt bad about it in a vague way. I'm a reader. I should be sipping honeyed tea and chatting with bookstore owners about the latest Ondaatje! I should be dragging my index finger lightly over title after title, glasses on the bridge of my nose, frowning pensively and making hmm hmm noises! I should know the name of the Bookstore Cat!

But I didn't. From the heart of French Quebec, I got better, more insightful, reading recommendations from my peers online. I read previews and excerpts of books via Amazon. I could find anything I wanted for order, almost nearly always immediately. Delivered to my door in about 72 hours, usually. The thrill of discovery via physically stumbling across things in a shop became the thrill of discovery via a review, a discussion forum, an e-mail from a friend.

So I redefined my relationship with the indie bookstore, and now the question I'd ask myself -- were I to move back to a place where indie bookstores can be easily accessed -- is:

Would I be willing to just hand over the difference in price I pay on Amazon vs. the price I'd pay at a cover-price bookstore to the bookstore owner? Would I be willing to walk into a bookstore every year, hand the owner an envelope with $1000 cash in it, wink and say "just keep doin' what you do"?

Before I moved to French Quebec, I'd probably have said "yes."

Having adapted to a world without easy access to English-language bookstores, I'd probably say "no."
posted by Shepherd at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


If you special order a book through a bookstore, and get it sent to the store, you probably won't have to pay shipping on it, and will most likely (unless if it's something like a textbook) not have to buy it if it's not what you want.

The one time I special-ordered a book that I didn't buy, I got a tremendous lecture from the bookstore owner about how I was wrecking her week because it costs to get these books and no one else will ever want this book (uh huh, it was Tales Of Watership Down just after it came out) and how dare I make a promise and not keep my promise blah blah blah. Needless to say, this pretty much wrecked my week.

I have never special-ordered a book again.

These days I get the vast majority of my books from Paperback Swap. $2.38 for a book simply cannot be beat, whether through Amazon or a used bookstore, and the selection there is surprisingly good (especially since you can add almost anything they don't have to your Wish List, and you'll get the first crack at it if someone lists it). I've gotten a ton of paperbacks and some amazing hardcovers there (Europe, Burnham's Celestial Handbook 1-3, etc.) It helps keep me from hoarding books, too, because anything I'm not going to read again can easily be turned into another book.

I do still shop at a "local" bookstore whenever I get the chance, though (Page One Books, which is an hour and a half away and thus not very local, but pretty much the local-est bookstore worth going to in New Mexico... at least, that I know of). I've been going there for decades, and things have definitely changed within the last couple years -- they closed their used bookstore across the street and rolled it into their much nicer new-book location, and they've added a lot of hands-on activities and such. The last time I was there, they had a guy teaching a large group of kids to draw, they had good coffee for $1, and they had a killer selection of used books -- just what you need to keep a local bookstore busy (and it was busy). I hope it sticks around.
posted by vorfeed at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2010


There's two groups of book buyers, one that primarily reads new releases and when they do pick up a classic that's been published numerous times they generally aren't concerned with which edition, the other looks for specific volumes they've seen referenced elsewhere, which may be in or out of print, and they can be quite finicky about the translator or publisher. The first tends to be more concerned with price, the latter with selection. Amazon of course, dominates in both areas, but I strongly suspect its advantage in selection is why it's getting the money from the second type of buyer and consequently killing the used bookstores.

I buy a lot of books and I'm not particularly worried about a $2 or a $5 or an $8 price difference. The extra cost is easily justified as the payment for having a neighborhood bookstore. But the selection matters, a lot. A lot of the books I buy are from smaller publishers and university presses. Here Amazon has a strong advantage with books still in print. I'll look at a book on Amazon, get interested in it, and then if I see it in a bookstore over the next couple of months buy it there. More often than not, Amazon makes the sale. Borders can't even really compete here, let alone an independent. In addition, these books are frequently $40 and up so the price difference starts to become more of a factor, plus Amazon offers the possibility of finding a used copy, while used bookstores rarely have a of a university press book that is still in print. Amazon's advantage is even stronger with used out of print books. A few months ago I decided to buy a copy of After Great Pain, out of print close to 40 years. Amazon has sellers listing copies at under $5. There's no outstanding used bookstore in my area, but even if there was, there's little motivation to go looking for it specifically - it's unlikely to be in stock. Used bookstores are great for browsing and that's one of my forms of entertainment, but with the internet providing excellent bibliographies on every subject imaginable + Google Books + Amazon suggested books + Amazon Lists + reader reviews (Amazon, LibraryThing, assorted blogs) it has gotten to where I prefer browsing online. Since I'm unlikely to find a specific volume there, in order to compete a used bookstore has to show me interesting books and particularly worthy editions that I haven't heard about online. While that's definitely still possible, it's a tall order and requires both good taste and a large selection. Stores like that are few in number. In my opinion, neither Strand nor Powell's with their broke bibliophile, cherry picking the stacks, employees makes the grade.

Another way that the internet has hurt used bookstores is that now everyone has a pretty good idea of a book's going rate. There's little inefficiency in pricing and there being few bargains to be found makes a visit to a bookstore a less attractive proposition. This is a minor issue relative to the selection, but it certainly doesn't help.

The "used & rare" type bookstores (which is of course the best kind) just can't offer its customers enough to support a brick and mortar location, and in another five or ten years only the very unique ones, like Atlantis Book and Shakespeare & Co., will still survive if any do at all.
posted by BigSky at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2010


As bookstore after bookstore closes down or struggles to survive, it becomes clear that a new model is needed if independents wish to remain sustainable in the age of Amazon.

It's called "sales tax".
posted by clarknova at 11:15 AM on June 23, 2010


as far as I can figure your general local branch is not going to get as many copies of anything remotely popular...

I'm a big fan of libraries. It blows me away how many people I know read tons but don't use their library. Sure there are a few books out there that you want forever, but I don't need shelves of books I'm never going to pick up again. It's a lot of money and a lot of space. Libraries are amazing. Put a hold on a book, and sometime later I get an email telling me it's available. If I end up not liking it or just getting too busy to read it, oh well.

Yeah, the hot releases take a long time to show up. (Although I'm lucky and the local library is pretty good at getting several copies of the books that have tons of holds) If that really bothers me, I can always pick up a copy. But those one or two books a year are barely a dent in my library usage. Use your library. It's an awesome resource, doubly so if they do free ILL.
posted by aspo at 11:22 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the top 10 bookshops in the world is in my town, and not only have I never visited it, I've never even heard of it? I am ashamed of myself, deeply. :/
posted by antifuse at 11:35 AM on June 23, 2010


Yeah, the hot releases take a long time to show up [...] If that really bothers me, I can always pick up a copy.

This is exactly the issue that is sinking both libraries and indie bookshops, in my opinion. I'd venture to say that you are in a minority of library patrons. And no organization, library or business, can cater to a minority and stay afloat. People want their new Patterson novels and they want them now, and if they can't get them now, they'll go somewhere they can. We are members of a culture of instant gratification and infinite choice and variety. I drive to the library, find out I can't get the new Dan Brown novel and so I just pick it up while it's right in front of me for twelve bucks during my trip to the WalMart the same day. Or I stop at the B&N on the way back. Either way, I get it now instead of waiting. People who read a lot but don't use the library must consist, at least partially, of the instant-gratification crowd and the library isn't built to cater to them.
posted by griphus at 11:39 AM on June 23, 2010


And no organization, library or business, can cater to a minority and stay afloat.

Exempting Amazon, of course.
posted by griphus at 11:40 AM on June 23, 2010


If it's so beloved, why is is going under? If it's beloved, then those people who love it so much are spending their dollars in there, right? Or is it just the idea of the bookshop that is beloved?

Yeah, I'm just pissed because I found out today what proportion of the local "save the planet by riding a bike to work" lobby group drive to work every day...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 11:49 AM on June 23, 2010


My guess... actual libraries will come back into vogue;

Where I live, all the libraries (but one) in the area are going to close on Jan. 3 if their millage isn't renewed in November. It probably will be, but we've been hit hard by the housing bubble collapse and unemployment (I'm in Michigan), so it doesn't feel like a sure thing at all. This could happen even though circulation is up substantially. I hope people using the library are willing to vote for the millage, though there may be an inverse correlation between library users and people who can afford the property taxes to pay for them.
posted by not that girl at 12:11 PM on June 23, 2010


vorfeed: These days I get the vast majority of my books from Paperback Swap. $2.38 for a book simply cannot be beat, whether through Amazon or a used bookstore, and the selection there is surprisingly good (especially since you can add almost anything they don't have to your Wish List, and you'll get the first crack at it if someone lists it).

I'd pay twice that if they could make it a bit more Netflix-y.

Also, I'm not seeing how to buy these credits, only the option to trade my books, which is neat, but less appealing to me at the moment.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:43 PM on June 23, 2010


paisley henosis, go to the Kiosk on PBS. You can buy credits there for about $3.50 or so. The $2.38 that vorfeed mentioned is the postage price you pay to send out a book -- when it's received, you get a credit that lets you order any other book on the site.

Also, since you're sending to/receiving from individual users, it can't ever fit the Netflix model.

Since I joined PBS (and assorted other swap sites) I have basically stopped buying books, aside from the occasional new release from Amazon or Borders. There's a charming used bookstore I see every day on my way home from work, but I can never justify going in there because I can get swap books for a fraction of the price. Plus, although I initially joined PBS et al to get rid of books, I now have a to-read pile of 100+ and must resist the temptation to acquire more at all costs...
posted by phatkitten at 1:32 PM on June 23, 2010


Excuse me, but what is ILL?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:39 PM on June 23, 2010


Inter-Library Loan
posted by aspo at 2:08 PM on June 23, 2010


phatkitten: paisley henosis, go to the Kiosk on PBS. You can buy credits there for about $3.50 or so. The $2.38 that vorfeed mentioned is the postage price you pay to send out a book -- when it's received, you get a credit that lets you order any other book on the site.

Also, since you're sending to/receiving from individual users, it can't ever fit the Netflix model.


Thanks for the info.

I agree that the logistics would be difficult if not impossible, but pre-paid mailing envelopes I can leave in my mail box and have them turn into a new book would beat the pants off of having to pack the book up and schlep it to the Post Office; I would be happy to pay a modest monthly premium for the ease of use improvement; especially if I have to go through those hoops every time somebody wants one of my books, not just when I'm returning one I borrowed.
posted by paisley henosis at 2:26 PM on June 23, 2010


Yeah, I'm just pissed because I found out today what proportion of the local "save the planet by riding a bike to work" lobby group drive to work every day...

But do you know how much faster my commute will be when everybody else is on their bikes or the bus ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:30 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's (mostly) covered, too, paisley henosis. You can buy "PBS Money" at the Kiosk, and use it to print mailing labels with postage. Since it's not stamped, it can be dropped in any mailbox regardless of weight (you could even leave it for your letter carrier to pick up, but I figure they have enough to carry.) You still have to wrap the book, but no Post Office trip required.
posted by Zed at 2:36 PM on June 23, 2010


Wrapping the books is easy, anyway -- the Paperback Swap label folds over most paperbacks, and then all you do is fold the ends down and tape it shut. It takes me about 2 minutes to wrap one. For hardcovers and larger paperbacks, I usually just drop them in a bubble mailer (recycled from previous swaps, of course!), tape it shut, and tape the label on.

Pro Tip: Combine Paperback Swap with box-o-books posts on Freecycle for maximum points! Achievement unlocked: so much reading!
posted by vorfeed at 3:31 PM on June 23, 2010


Wow, clearly I didn't spend enough time clicking around on the site. Thanks for the info!
posted by paisley henosis at 4:21 PM on June 23, 2010


I self-published a novel last year, and I left five copies at TATRL on consignment. Last time I checked, three of the five copies had sold. Now I'm wondering if I'm ever going to see either the commissions or the unsold copies again. I also lost a few books last winter when McNally Robinson closed down their store at Lawrence/Don Mills Road.

Indie stores are still a vital avenue for selling hardcopy books. Chain stores like Chapters are very hard to break in to. I managed to get my book into the John/Richmond branch of Chapters for eight weeks before they shipped back the remainder copies, a number of which were damaged. A larger number of copies sold there, yes, but I only have so much time to haggle one on one with every single store. Most of the other outlets told me to call back in six months, and then six months later they told me the same thing.

While I am long past hoping to make my money back, I was looking forward to collecting what I had earned. I am sure there are dozens of other local authors in the same boat as me. When a bookstore closes, it's not just the owners and staff who lose out.

Other notes:

Since a few people have mentioned libraries: I recently learned that you can not just give your book to the local library and have them put them on the shelf. Right now I am waiting on word back from the Toronto Public Library as to my "application" (for lack of a better word). They also asked for copies of reviews to help them assess the worthiness of my book; luckily I had two reviews on hand, which I suspect is two more than most unpublished authors, as most traditional outlets for book reviewing have either closed shop or changed priorities.

And while I haven't ruled out putting together an e-book, it would help if I knew a single person who owned one, let alone used them on a regular basis. I admit my social circle is limited, but I hardly ever see e-book readers around up here. Maybe it's a more common device in the States?
posted by spoobnooble at 4:39 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is very sad and I can't see any way to remedy this. Individual stores can try the "desperately trying to cover all the bases" idea but the economics simply don't work. :-(
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:31 PM on June 23, 2010


So why is that when McNally-Robinson closed their gorgeous store on Stephen Ave in Calgary, a store that made TATRL look like a complete shithole, everybody in Calgary was castigated as being book-hating rednecks, but when not only does Mc-R close in Toronto after FOUR MONTHS of being open (ours lasted eight years!) and then this fantastic TATRL closes, nobody accuses Torontonians of being anything but hapless victims?

Cry me a fucking river, Toronto. If you can brand Calgary as a redneck wasteland because we lost a much better indie bookstore than you EVER had, then this is karma biting you on you arrogant asses. Bookstores are closing everywhere. You're not immune from history and we were never rednecks for seeing our treasure close.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:40 PM on June 23, 2010


Calgary gets branded as rednecks, Torontonians get branded as elitist Yank wannabes. It's the circle of life, ethnomethodologist.

If the Mc-R in Calgary was as gorgeous as you say it is, then it is a damn shame. The one in Toronto was a business mistake, though the folks I dealt with there were very helpful, and didn't deserve to lost their jobs. Either way, both Calgary and Toronto have a significant advantage over the many, many smaller cities that have to make do with a Chapters block in the power mall complex.
posted by spoobnooble at 8:01 PM on June 23, 2010


I wish I'd had this post by Book Madam to add to the FPP yesterday, it's a good read about This Ain't.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 6:47 AM on June 24, 2010


Even if Amazon had been around in my teens, there would have been a purpose for the bricks-and-mortar store, because I read a lot of genre fiction and I wanted to see what had been added to the shelf(/ves). I don't find Amazon very convenient for finding anything other than exactly what you are looking for. Libraries are also good for this kind of browsing.

Then came several years of disappointed browsing (in the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres). Now, I read little of it, and what I do is either from an author I already know well or it's been recommended umpteen times by people whose opinions I trust. Either way: no browsing required.

"Supporting local/emerging authors" sounds good, though it's a no-brainer for a major chain to give shelf space to local authors. And I couldn't care less about a book signing, tyvm.

Oh, I also hope Amazon drives every (video) game store out of existence, because they suck suck suck. No, I do not want to buy your used copy for 90% of the new price, thanks.

But more sadly, I wonder if online alternatives are slowly strangling (tabletop) gaming stores as well. Why pay 20-40% more at Ye Olde Gaming Guild when I can go here.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:47 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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