Monthly Archives: September 2010

Independence! (Independents?) Indie-pants, depends.

There was a quote in this morning’s Shelf Awareness about what Indie book stores represent:

“Independent bookstores are the places where freedom of speech and anti-censorship are integrated into everything we do. We are spaces where difference–of ideas, sexuality, spirit, politics, and philosophy–is embraced and not feared. Politics and Prose has been exactly this kind of place for the past 27 years. Independent bookstores are essential to their communities and hence to a truly democratic nation. The survival of our bookstores relies on children becoming informed and engaged in our midsts. Only through the nurturing of this future community will we ensure having a customer base on which to rely.”

It is a pretty verbose way to say: “Indies promote thought” (and of course, I mostly agree with it, grand statements aside). A few paragraphs down, there was a note about how big chains were faring in today’s largely digital world – about the big chains’ need to remake themselves to better understand and serve their communities.

I wonder how these big chains ARE serving their communities. As far as I can see, on some level, Indies still cater to their community in the same way that a local Barnes & Noble may do so Рthey order the books they think  the people who come into their stores will buy. Most may not have coops that are quite as influential as say, having your book on the front page of Amazon, or in the front table at B&N. So, with chain stores and digital behemoths, should they have the same sense of responsibility to their customers? To keep them informed of not just when the new Stephenie Meyer or Dan Brown novels are coming out, or when they can get that next Glenn Beck picture book, but also of books highlighting local politics or a title you may never have dreamed of buying in a thousand years, without someone saying Рhey, you should check this out.

Do they have a responsibility to personalize the experience, I guess, is what I’m asking. Not a responsibility in a moral sense, or from some sense of duty – but tradition? Customer service? People are getting cheated out of knowing any better!

… You think that maybe this (and the ease & accessibility of the internet) is why a lot of chains may be falling under? … Of course, this is all conversation that’s happened and is happening and will probably continue to happen for quite some time. But, whatever. I’ma say what I’ma say.

With the enormity of what Amazon gives us, there’s also a sense of panic when trying to figure out what you really want. And so, I believe (or maybe just really want to believe) that independents are (or will) make a comeback, among people who value the experience,¬† conversation, and above all the sense of community involved in book shopping.

… Of course, this is all tied in with whether or not book publishing itself will figure out a way to stop being so damned costly and damned repetitive (if I like this, then MAYBE I WANT SOMETHING DIFFERENT AND NEW). (But I will not go on that rant today, no, sir.)

To go back to the “promoting thought” comment, we (…I) like to complain about the obscene amount of power Amazon holds over the book industry and book buying habits of the masses – but I sometimes forget the political and psychological effects of the big-digital-business experiment. I don’t necessarily mean “political” in an industry way, but, how big business defines what people are exposed to.

I’ve mentioned before how this country seems to get less and less “American” with every passing day – with one group or another being legally or illegally put down for being different. You see it in the media – Oh hello Ground Zero Mosque that is niether at Ground Zero, nor a Mosque. And you see it in our book stores with the perpetuating of certain titles or authors, or even just trends (ahem, Vampires).

Not to say that one is equal to the other – but, if all we’re exposed to is one point of view, well, then, shit. How will books that aren’t like anything else out there be released? I’d suppose their platform would have to be the independents that may not need to rely on history for every title that comes through their stores.

With the word count I’m at, I’ve come too far to comfortably publish something with the thought: Sure, my friends will read this – because they won’t. It’s too freakin’ long.

… My bad.

Well, this is all kind of a roundabout love letters to Indies. I support them, you should, too. Unless you want to get stuck with getting a goddamn John Grisham novel or, dare I say it, a Sarah Palin book of Essays (Times, They Are a’Changin’) every Christmas because no one decent gets published anymore.

Chew on that you kindlers.


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