Category Archives: independent bookstores


Books and pieces

Just got back from a relaxing beach vacation in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  Aside from blue skies, a minimal amount of jellyfish, and the blackened fish tacos at Uncle Ike’s, one of the highlights of our week was spending time at the Island Bookstore in Corolla.  Below is a view from the front porch of this quaint, but well stocked and organized, establishment which seems to do a brisk business (warms the heart, that):

Like most publishing people (really, like most book people) I’m thrilled at how nicely the independent stores are doing after being pummeled by giant corporations starting in the ‘90s and facing the threat of death by e-books that doomsayers predicted (and still do).  What I didn’t expect, and find rather ironic, is the fact that we now are all worrying about  and rooting for Barnes & Noble’s survival in the wake of its recent struggles.  B&N, once publishing’s bad guy, has relinquished its evil empire status to the mighty (Villanous? Depends on who you talk to…) Amazon, with the result that people who once reviled the company are now offering suggestions on how to stay afloat for the sake of the book business as a whole.  This piece by Jason Diamond in Flavorwire goes to the heart of the issue and suggests that B&N act more like an Indie in order to save itself.  Did I mention irony?

As much as I love a musty, cluttered shop that I can lose myself in for hours at a time, growing up in the Miami sprawl, I went to the Waldenbooks or Borders at the mall because quaint, pretty Indie bookstores were not just a stroll away.  Sure, these mall venues lacked charm, but they offered access to the titles I wanted and needed and I was grateful they were around.  I do hope B&N, which effectively replaced those old mall stores, will hang on for a new generation of readers who get dropped off at the mall by their parents.

So, what’s your favorite bookstore?  And why?


Not only do the French not get fat, understand the subtle arts of seduction, scarf-tying, gastronomy and most recently (per Bringing up Bebe) parenting,  it seems that even the Gallic booksellers are in a better spot than their American colleagues  Although I am skeptical of the many hyperbolic  claims associated with French culture—Americans have a peculiar love hate relationship with the French (remember “freedom fries?”) that often renders the land of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité in a less than accurate light, it does seem that French booksellers, thanks to  legal price-fixing (no collusion charges here!)  and government subsidies, do enjoy a considerable advantage over our anemic and Amazon-eviscerated ecosystem. Depending on your politics, the French respect for/protection of booksellers epitomizes everything that’s right or wrong with government, but it does mean that the market for books has remained both stable and lively.  From my French clients—who send me photos of reading tours and well attended signings filled with well-dressed people— I get a glimpse of what seems a pre-lapsarian booksellers’ paradise.  Do I romanticize? Mais bien sur.

I’m not sure that given the present climate in the United States that there is really much likelihood that our model will borrow something from the French, but it is, however, interesting to look abroad at a very different literary landscape and indulge in some armchair travel.


Summer Reading List

With this brutal heat wave we’ve had recently, I think it’s safe to say that summer has (un)officially begun! Here at the office, we’re fortunate to have summer Fridays, when the office closes at 1 pm from Memorial Day until Labor Day. For some, it’s a most welcome opportunity for a long weekend away, and for others, a great chance to catch up on some recreational reading.

Over the long weekend, I came across this pretty terrific list of 15 Summer Reads Handpicked by Indie Booksellers, and suffice it to say that more than a few of these titles have since infiltrated my own summer reading list.

What types of books do you prefer to read during the summer? Captivating thrillers that will chill you to your core? Adventure novels set in the Arctic where you can easily imagine yourself when it gets too hot to bear?


Did your city make the cut?

The Huffington Post came out with a great article today about Amazon’s second annual list of the most well-read cities in the US. This list is, of course, based on Amazon’s sales, and as the Huffington Post points out, doesn’t properly represent places where a lot of people are still visiting traditional bookstores. Indeed, our own city doesn’t make the top ten, but I’d like to think that’s because you’re never far from an independent bookstore or a Barnes & Noble.

To that end, the lovely folks at Huffington also provide people in the #1 town of Alexandria, VA with a list of alternatives to Amazon. Still, it’s always interesting to see who’s buying what online.

Which leads me to my questions for the day: What are the top genres you tend to buy online? And which ones do you tend to buy in person?

I’m going to investigate my own book buying habits tonight, and I encourage you to do the same!


Bricks and mortar (and Lego Men)

I’ve gone on the record here a number of times about my pro-bookstore bias, so I won’t go into it again, but let me start by saying this isn’t a physical vs. digital post.  For now at least, we can all agree that physical bookstores exist, and there are people who still wish to patronize them.  I am one of those people, but I respect that there are people who have other preferences.

I wandered around the B&N behemoth at the top of Union Square the other day and thought about the ways that stores innovate in what are not the easiest times.  As I passed the sizable Lego section of the store on the escalator (and glanced down at the enormous book-reading Lego Men that I’d strongly consider purchasing if they were for sale), I realized that it’s well past the time that I cringed in response to non-book space in the store.  Don’t get me wrong: when that particular store expanded their Nook…nook, I was very happy they found space from the DVD/music area and not the bookshelves.  But even when I forced myself, I found I was happy that people who might not go out of their way to buy books have to pass tons of books on their way over to build at the Lego table.  What use are shelves and shelves and shelves of books that will be returned if no one goes into the store to buy them, after all?  However complex the economics, eyes on books seems better than not.

Over the years, we’ve seen stores adding cafés and media and toys and games.  We’ve seen stores try to find a home for themselves in a world of e-books with things like the Nook and the customized e-book shelf talkers that Melville House offers indies, as recently reported by Laura Miller in Salon.  When I worked at B&N, the store I was in had recently begun an events program (which was nothing new in general, but it’d previously been deemed too small to find the space for them), with signings, readings, story time and writing groups.  Whatever the results may be in this time of great change for the industry, I’m pleased any time I see that a piece of the intricate publishing ecosystem won’t go down without a fight (so long as it’s not at the expense of authors, of course—the rest of us are nothing without them).

For those of you who sometimes shop in physical bookstores, what do you see stores doing in a bid for survival?  Any great ideas that you think should be adopted more widely?  Any ideas you wish they’d try?

How would you save the book biz?

We’ve all heard the horror stories over the last couple of years about the end of publishing and books basically becoming obsolete and going the way of the VHS tape.

Those of us who work in publishing do our part to help keep the business afloat. Writers by writing, where it all begins; agents by selling writers’ works; publishers by publishing and getting the books to the consumer. We work hard, despite the changing landscape and gloom and doom mantras, to get our books into the marketplace, especially those hard-to-sell titles that fall into the “labor of love” category, of which I can list my fair share from over the years.

Now bestselling author Ann Patchett has made the front page of the New York Times (rare for a publishing story at all, and a positive one at that) talking about opening an independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville. I loved Ann Patchett before (State of Wonder was definitely one of the best books I read this year) and now I love her even more for using her own time and resources to help give back to her community, and by extension, to the publishing industry.

I can’t think of a quick-fix to transform the biz, but new successful indie stores will help, and as Patchett notes in the piece: “If you like this thing, it’s your responsibility to keep this thing alive.” Meantime, I will be continuing to try and sell books that make a difference in people’s lives, and I will be more mindful of supporting my local bookseller as we approach the holiday season.

If you could do one thing to help save the book business, what would it be?

The price of admission

There was a little used book store around the corner from my apartment complex, when I was growing up in Miami, that was my second home.  Nerdy, latch-key kid that I was, I spent hours browsing the shelves, trying to get the owner to throw in an extra dog-eared paperback in exchange for the stack of Spanish language comic books I was trading, and generally getting high on the smell of old paper and ink.  I still have treasured editions scattered throughout my many bookcases whose provenance was that little shop.

Then, when I first got to New York, I was blown away by places like Shakespeare & Co., Brentano’s, Coliseum Books, Papyrus and that promised land for bibliophiles, The Strand.   A few years later many of my favorite haunts had gone out of business or been taken over by soulless corporate giants (you know who you are) but I never lost my love of browsing aimlessly in book stores.  These days, I still occasionally wander over to the Barnes & Noble on Union Square and spend my lunch hour in the fiction stacks on the fourth floor.

Of course, book stores have also traditionally been a place for authors to do their dog and pony show in support of their work.   Book tours are going the way of the Amazon forests but certain authors are still a huge draw (just try to get anywhere near the third floor at the aforementioned Barnes & Noble when David Sedaris is doing a reading).  Some of these events can make you fall in love with a book or its author, sometimes both.   They’re also the makings of a cheap date for grown-ups and an alternative to a $30 movie outing for young kids.  Except, it seems, no more.

Check out this  Gawker piece about the new trend of book stores charging admission to author events.  I actually understand and support independents in their efforts to get people in the door.  These are trying times for book sellers and if they are to keep their doors open in the face of the online juggernauts (you know who you are, cough, Amazon) they are going to have to figure out a way to make money.  But it does make me sad.   How many times did I walk out of a book store with a title I had no intention of buying when I went in after stumbling upon an author reading from his/her book?  I wonder if the days of the accidental book buyer are numbered as a result of these new pay-for-play tactics.

What do you all think about this new development?


Attention, Shoppers: Book Nut in Aisle Six

Thanks to a perfect storm of heavy Seder food, an overtired, sick toddler, and a neighbor’s alarm clock that just. wouldn’t. shut. up, I’m way too beat to construct much of a post today. So I’ll just share the link to a blog post from the Three Guys One Book site that’s been getting a lot of coverage the last two days. Basically, it’s all the reasons why we need to support independent bookstores—the positive effects they have on the community, their ability to showcase books that might otherwise get lost on Amazon, and most significantly (and humorously) how they prevent book nuts from following you around the supermarket holding forth on their new favorite titles. With all the other crazies in New York—like last night’s neighbors, for example–to me, that’s the best argument of all!

Indies in action

I loved reading this piece from Publisher’s Weekly‘s blog section, which is written by bookstore owner, Josie Leavitt of The Flying Pig in Vermont, and talks about the pros of handselling books. I love her line, “Passion is what sells books.” It’s a sort of old fashioned way of doing it, but it seems so smart and obvious to have people who genuinely love books selling them and sharing their feelings about various books they love. And it’s so nice to see how it can actually translate to sales as evidenced by the sales of her own store.

What’s your favorite local bookstore, or did you have one growing up that you remember frequenting? There are so many big stores today, although fewer thanks to Borders recent filing for bankruptcy (see Michael’s post), but maybe this will make room for more independent stores to thrive (the power of positive thinking). I still love the smaller shops and try to give them my business where I can. Omnivore in San Francisco is a unique, inviting place specializing in food and drink books that I found while visiting my brother last year when a client of mine had a reading there. I loved Book Court in Cobble Hill when we lived in Brooklyn, and even here in New Jersey there are a couple of great ones, including Books & Greetings in Northvale and Acorns in Tenafly. We had my daughter’s 4th birthday tea party at Acorns, and it was one of the most lovely, intimate, and adorable parties I’ve ever been to. Highly recommended for anyone local!


Bookstore tourism

Just got back late last night from Seattle, where I’d spent a long weekend for a wedding. To be honest, my mind was mostly on other things than the book biz—beer and oysters can be quite distracting—but I did squeeze in a couple of bookstore visits. Did a short walk-through at the Elliot Bay Book Company, which was awesomely overwhelming, as well as poked my head into a couple of the crowded stalls in Pike Place Market. And while I didn’t go into the chains, I was pleased to note that in the “retail core” of downtown Seattle, both B&N and Borders (for now) have prominent store locations.

What about you? When you’re on vacation in a city, do you actively seek out the bookstores? As you wander around town, do you notice the abundance/lack of booksellers? Ever make a pilgrimage to a specific bookstore, as my father-in-law does to the Strand every time he’s in NYC? Any recommendations for good bookstore city vacations? Share, share, share….