Here’s a Guardian article, nominally about Waterstone’s, a UK book chain (“When it started, Waterstone’s was a breath of fresh air. But as it got ever bigger, many say it lost its soul. What effect has that had on publishing?”). Read it. It’s a condensed history of how book selling changed.
There’s a parallel story, too, of course: how publishing changed (mergers and acquisitions in the 80s leading to greater expectations of the bottom line from corporate masters) but we’ll leave that for another day.
For now I’d like to focus on the bright light in this article: the new generation (well, okay, not a generation, yet) of independent booksellers. I suddenly had a vision of a corporation–probably a non-profit umbrella corporation, funded by the giving arms of multi-nationals–partnering with independents like Elliott Bay, Bailey/Coy, Seattle Mystery Books, Powell’s, Book Soup, Tattered Cover, Mysterious Galaxy, Vroman’s, Malaprop’s, Charis, etc. to strengthen negotiating positions with publishers and distributors, pay for the little comforts that make a big difference to customers, and so on. Yes, I know this is what IndieBound, the independents’ trade association, is supposed to do, but clearly it’s not working. (Bailey/Coy just announced its closure. Elliott Bay is in deep trouble.)
This BooksellCorp wouldn’t expect profits, as such. They would be paying forward, building a pool of better educated, well-rounded applicants for their future positions. Seriously. The war for talent has already started in corporate HR world (the recession is just a blip). This would be a way for huge corporations to ensure there are competent, empathetic, and civilised (readers are civilised people but, again, that’s a discussion for another time) potential employees to choose from. It’s also, of course, an opportunity to brand themselves favourably in the eyes of those potential employees.
So that’s my reinvent-the-world dream for today. I’m curious as to how others see this. If you don’t like it, what’s your dream today?
Addendum: wow, it looks as though someone else thought of this–or a version of it. (Thanks, @bookavore.) This is exciting!
5 thoughts on “reinventing bookselling”
Not my original comment (eaten by Blogger) which may have picked apart your dream — mostly I'm not exactly sure what you would have these paragon employees do so it's a little hard for me to picture your dream. In my experience, non profits survive only by exploiting free labor so first you'd need a world where talent and effort are valued more than currency.
My dream for book selling: more books that I enjoy reading.
My dream for bookselling is that it would pay enough for a person to earn a real living, so they wouldn't leave for better-paying jobs.
Also, speaking as someone who worked at many indie stores: if more independent bookstores remembered they were operating a business (ie, a for-profit model), they would stop closing and blaming Amazon/chains/phases of the moon.
Sorry, but the fact is that most independent bookstores fail because the owners are – at heart – book readers and not business people. They need to be both to succeed.
Man, Utopian dreaming– Eutopian, really– is my favorite. So over dystopia.
That booksellers realize and act on building a sustainable community for the future and stop clinging to a notion from the past.
lonelypond, these paragons would be the nurses, accountants, CEOs, business managers, social workers, biologists, industrial engineers, judges and janitors of the future.
colleen, oh, absolutely. My imaginary BookSell would only partner with the business-savvy. Otherwise it's throwing good money after bad.
mordicai, yep, we need to dream harder.
kevin, welcome. I agree. 'Community' and 'sustainable' are key.
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