Wednesday, October 11, 2006

From: Downtown Books

I want to be a REAL bookstore when I grow up

I sell books for a living. I like selling books, and I am damn good at it. I sell books better than 70 hours most weeks, and have spent years learning my trade. I do not tell you any of this to impress you, but rather to make the point that this is what I DO. This is not a hobby, or what I am doing until my Amway business takes off and I become a super duper diamond and own an island. So, you will understand if I took offense when I read this over at Paul Ryburns blog.

Let me preface this by saying that I don't think Paul is a bad person; I just think he is wrong.

He maintains (insists, really) that while it is great that we are here, what Downtown needs is a real bookstore. You know, one with ferns and carpet and that stays open till ten, so he does not have to go hang out at bars. Now, one might question why one must go hang out at bars, if what you really want to do is go to a bookstore, as there is a Bookstar 15 minutes up the road that stays open till 10 (and they do not even have a cover charge), but that is a whole 'nother post; heck, that would be a whole 'nother blog.

He gives 3 reasons [sic] why Downtown needs a Chain Bookstore. To quote Samuel Johnson (who, among other things, was a bookseller and a son of a bookseller) "I refute you, thus!"

1) We need a bookstore that stays open until at least 10 at night.
"...I would love to have a bookstore where I can go and read and hang out after work."

That is not what you do in a bookstore. That is what you do in a library, or the park, or hell, I guess the alleyway behind your house. You buy books in a bookstore. If you do this, the proprietor will no doubt want to chat with you, discuss things you like to read, or make other recommendations. Some people call this a good time. Buying books means you give them money, with which they pay the rent, lights, taxes, employees, buy books, and, if fortune shines on them (or the phone bill is late in arriving that month), they buy food for their children and try to pay their mortgage. Your "hanging out" does not pay for any of that.

Incidentally, again note that I studied this just a little bit before risking time, money, and my families security in downtown. If there were enough folks who would come in at 10pm, I would be here with bells on. The market (defined as people who will pay money for books) just ain't there. As it is, anything after 3pm is a gift.

2) There's a certain legitimacy that comes with a big chain's name value.

If you go to bed with a whore, you wake up with a whore. IF B&N or Borders came down here, less than half of the money you put in their register will stay in the local economy. Over 80% of our revenue stays local. They will come in, slash prices, force the books down your throat that the publisher pays them advertising dollars to, and when things look bleak, they will leave. You will get folks who work there who are just a shade too smart to work at McDonald's. Oh, they are legitimate. They are as legitimate as all hell.

3. Larger selection

This is largely a myth. Folks say they want a larger selection, but they do not. They want the appearance of a larger selection. We have well over 10,000 titles on the shelves, and add more everyday. Titles, not books. They may have 50,000 books, but only 6,000 titles. After all, there are 50 copies of the Da Vinci code in that pile, and 15 copies of the latest Nora Roberts books in a display over there. The industry knows this, by the way. The chains know that a HUGE percentage of their sales will come from less than 500 titles in any given year. They have a cute name for the rest of the stock: wallpaper.

If you want the latest Oprah book club book, go to B&N. However, we have a highly regarded selection of Religion, Philosophy, Science Fiction, American history and Cookbooks that I would go up against any chain on.

A few other things from his post that I take issue with:

And I'm not claiming that that experience is better than the one you would have at a mom-and-pop store, ...

I just LOVE being called a Mom and Pop. Love it. Why don't you just tell me how cute my little bookshop is, and ask me what I want to be when I grow up.

True, a small store could order any book a customer requests, but when I want a book, I want it now, not a week from now. If I were willing to wait a week, I'd just get on and order it myself.

Maybe that is the best choice for you. Then you can hang out in your own house, listen to your ipod and talk loud on your cellphone. Of course, when you do that, please do not piss and moan when the small bookshops go under and talk about how evil the chains are, and how "Downtown NEEDS a bookstore". It costs money to be here, folks.

Downtown Books closes at 5, according to their website. That means the only day I can hang out there is Saturday.

Not that we have seen you on any of the 6 Saturdays we have been open so far, but we have high hopes. Please leave the Yatzee board at home.

posted by Hugh Hollowell

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