Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why Indie Bookstores Are on the Rise Again'

"Independent bookstores never had to answer to the dictates of public markets. Many of their proprietors understood, intuitively and from conversations with customers, that a well-curated selection--an inventory of old and new books--was their primary and maybe only competitive advantage.... And while indies cannot compete with Amazon's inventory, Amazon evidently cannot supplant indies as shopping and social experiences.

"The independent stores will never be more than a niche business of modest sales and very modest profitability. But the same is true for many small businesses, which makes them no less vital.... The independents, meanwhile, offer something neither Amazon nor the chains can: attention to the quirky needs of their customer base. For the Upper West Side and thousands of other neighborhoods, those stores have turned out to be irreplaceable."
--Zachary Karabell in a Slate piece headlined "WhyIndie Bookstores Are on the Rise Again"

Friday, September 5, 2014

Amazon's Power Is a 'Position of Responsibility'

Amazon continues to make it difficult for people to buy books from the publisher Hachette (a.k.a. Little Brown) as Amazon pressures Hachette to make the publisher sell their books to Amazon at lower prices. 

Author Douglas Preston wrote yesterday that  “Amazon is continuing to sanction books: 2,500 Hachette authors and over 7,000 titles have now apparently been affected. Hachette authors have seen their sales at Amazon decline at least 50% and in many cases as much as 90%. This has been going on for six months.” (Preston spearheaded an ad in the New York Times, on August 10th, signed by more than 900 authors, that took Amazon to task for its behavior).

Amazon has been heedless of the effects that its tactics are having on books, authors, and the culture of the written word. It clearly sees books as just another "product" that it sells, and treats them just like office products or appliances. Some of us feel that books are a lot more valuable to our culture than even the latest smartphone. We find it frightening that a company with Amazon's mindset--that financial gain should trump the free expression of ideas-- already dominates more than 60% of the market for books in the U.S. In the long run, the flowering of free expression requires a diversity of authors, publishers and retailers. Yet Amazon's stated goal is to dominate both the publishing and selling of books.

The author Janet Finch eloquently pointed out some of these feelings in an open letter to Amazon's Jeff Bazos:

Amazon's Power Is a 'Position of Responsibility'

"The sheer amount of power you have gained in the literary marketplace negates any disingenuous argument that it's just 'business as usual.' With the amount of wealth and power Amazon has accumulated, you've also put yourself into a position of responsibility--wanted or unwanted--for the intellectual life of the country. You have seated yourself at that table. I urge you to consciously accept that responsibility, and respond to it by treating the small amount of your business which is represented by literature with fairness and even--understanding how important to the life of our society books are--preferential treatment.

"The difference between a symbiotic and a parasitic relationship is that in symbiosis, the host is not harmed in any way. The two organisms work together for mutual benefit. In a parasitic relationship, the growth of the secondary organism outstrips the ability of the host to sustain itself. Unlike symbiosis, a parasite kills its host, and eventually, itself."

--Author Janet Fitch, from a letter she wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos July 5 "in the hopes of reaching him directly. As I never heard from him, I've decided to make it an open letter."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Fond Farewell to a One-time Customer

It was a slow Saturday afternoon, back in the late 1980's or early 1990s. Only one customer in the store. A woman, browsing the biography section. Susan, who was working the counter with me, put her hand over her mouth and whispered, “I think that's Lauren Bacall!”

“Really?” I answered skeptically. But glancing at the profile of the woman's face, I had to admit that she
could indeed be Lauren Bacall. But how were we going to know for sure? I mean, you just don't walk up to someone and ask them if they are Lauren Bacall. And bookstore policy has always been that we leave people alone so they can browse without being bothered.

Luckily, Ms Bacall helped us out. She turned toward Susan and me and asked a question. And as soon as we heard that deep, smoky voice, there was no question. This was Lauren Bacall, browsing in The Regulator.

As I recall, we had the book she was looking for, and she bought it. Susan and I stayed cool, no screaming, no asking for an autograph. But of course we were excited. So much so that I have no memory of what the book was that Lauren Bacall bought. But I think she had a pleasant, quiet time, browsing in our bookstore that day.

Thanks for the memories, Ms Bacall.
--Tom Campbell

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Shelving to Save a Book's Life"

"Turning a book face out is an act of tremendous power, or so it feels when you are working at an independent bookstore at a moment that has major chains shrinking and Amazon wreaking havoc with publishing's already fragile ecosystem.... You can also show a little love to an obscure mid-list paperback you just discovered suffocating between two behemoth hardcovers--simply because it feels like the right thing to do.... You can't save every life. You can't save every book. But you can at least throw lifelines now and then. Turning a book face out is the micro version of Stephen Colbert bestowing likely bestsellerdom on a debut novel caught in the Hachette/Amazon crossfire."
--Susan Coll of Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C., in an Atlantic magazine piece headlined "Shelving to Save a Book's Life.

Friday, April 11, 2014

From Maine in 1896: The Quote of the Week

My companions and I had been so intent upon the subject of the conversation that we had not heard any one open the gate, but at this moment, above the noise of the rain, we heard a loud knocking. We were all startled as we sat by the fire, and Mrs. Todd rose hastily and went to answer the call, leaving her rocking-chair in violent motion. Mrs. Fosdick and I heard an anxious voice at the door speaking of a sick child, and Mrs. Todd's kind, motherly voice inviting the messenger in: then we waited in silence. There was a sound of heavy dropping of rain from the eaves, and the distant roar and undertone of the sea. My thoughts flew back to the lonely woman on her outer island; what separation from humankind she must have felt, what terror and sadness, even in a summer storm like this!

"You send right after the doctor if she ain't better in half an hour," said Mrs. Todd to her worried customer as they parted; and I felt a warm sense of comfort in the evident resources of even so small a neighborhood, but for the poor hermit Joanna there was no neighbor on a winter night.

--from The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett. First published in 1896, the book's sequence of stories tell of the lives of a group of resourceful women living in relative isolation in small villages along the Maine coast. Reading it today can provide a wonderful "vacation" from our too-connected present world. The Regulator carries the book in a handsome illustrated paperback, published by New England publisher David Godine.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Closed on Account of the Good Weather?"

The sign I thought about putting on our front door today:

Closed on Account of Good Weather

if you have a problem with this, take a hike!

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Going to the local park is like walking into Cheers" The Quote of the Week

"I think of birds as a circle of friends and acquaintances. Going to the local park is like walking into Cheers. Here's the warbler, back again. 'How was Mexico?'"

--David Sibley, talking at The Regulator last evening.