Deb Eleanor’s Book(store) Report

Eleanor BrownIn traveling to support The Weird Sisters, I’ve been in a lot of bookstores over the past few months, not only for appearances, but for stock signings (where an author comes to the store to sign the copies they have on hand), interviews, and a few moments of respite in all the hubbub.

There’s been a lot of doom and gloom about the fate of books and publishing and bookstores of late, and understandably so.  But each time I go into a bookstore, I find myself thinking of Mark Twain’s quote, “…the report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Because here’s the thing: these bookstores are BUSY.  The shelves are stocked, and there are people browsing with stacks of books in their arms.  There are lines at the cash registers.  There are author events and signed copies on the shelves.  If the store has a cafe, there are people with cups of coffee and laptops, or cups of tea and books.  There are book and writing groups meeting, and children’s story times with readers in costume.

GravestoneI’m not going to argue with statistics about sales or stores that have closed – we’re definitely in the midst of change here.  But I do think it is change, and not death we’re working with.

In addition to being in lots of bookstores, I’ve been in lots of airports, and for every person texting on their cell phone while we wait to board, there are people reading.  Some of them are reading physical books and newspapers and magazines, some of them are reading on Kindles or Nooks or Kobos or Sonys or iPads.  But they are reading.

It seems to me that bookstores have undergone a shift – they’re not simply stores anymore.  They’re community centers.  Some people are going to come in for the Wi-Fi and the coffee and never buy a book.  But some parents are going to come in for storytime because they the kids desperately need a break, and they’re going to walk out with a book for themselves and one for their kids.  Or some people are going to come, as happened when I read with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein at Newtonville Books last week, to see one author read and walk out with the other author’s book.

What do you think? Are we calling bookstores dead before their time?

19 Replies to “Deb Eleanor’s Book(store) Report”

  1. I agree with you. The bookstores I’ve been in lately have been lively, well-stocked places. If they’re crumbling behind the scenes, you’d never know it by looking at them.

    I really don’t think e-books and Amazon will be the death of brick and mortar stores any more than television and VCRs were the death of movie theaters. As you say, there will be changes, but I suspect there’s no need to panic.

    1. Wow – I love your TV/VCR/movie theater analogy. Like movie theaters, there’s something about the bookstore that can’t be duplicated at home.

      I think if nothing else, this is support for a “change or die” mentality – I’m glad I am not in charge of figuring out *how* to change, but I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

  2. I don’t think so, but clearly the market has shifted. In a community like Newtonville (I used to live in Newton, in Nonantum, the village next door)I think they have a shot at survival because of the demographic and lively Main Street with enough traffic to generate walk ins. Each bookstore I’ve been to has been well stocked and for the independents, I’ve noticed they are all “cozy” in some way. They are inviting, warm, approachable. I know one independent that is not – and frankly, I don’t see how it can survive. It’s like walking into a cement cell. Tall ceilings, sparse light wood shelves, cement floor – no charm and yet not industrial or techno in feel.

    I’ve had great signings at B&N and Border’s and the same at independents where we’ve crammed into a small room surrounded by Curious George and Eloise.

    Bookstores are community gathering places – and thank goodness for them. That said, the pricing is an issue in this economy. It’s a splurge to pay full price for a book. A PERCEIVED splurge, but a splurge nonetheless.

    Libraries are still going strong, and I hope bookstores will too.


    1. How cool – Newtonville Books is great bookstore!

      I think there’s definitely something about the style of a bookstore that’s important. My local indie, Tattered Cover, is warm and welcoming, with tons of places to sit and read, which personally makes me more likely to stay and spend more money. Comfy chairs are totally underused in bookstores.

      Price is an issue – remember that big war last year over hardcover prices? That’s something where bookstores are still figuring it all out, and we have to figure out how to vote with our money.

      1. Am I doing more for publishing by buying 4 Kindle books instead of 2 hardcovers at an independent? I find I am, buying a lot MORE books via Kindle – more than I would have in hardcover OR paperback. In fact, the only lose is my library – at $9.99 for a book, I’m happy to click “Buy now,” on the Kindle. I’ve read more authors since I got my Kindle, tried new genres, bought an entire series from several authors. I can honestly say that I feel no Kindle guilt – I’m reading and buying more books than ever.

        1. I agree – my e-reader makes me more adventurous and I definitely buy more books overall. My to be read pile now exists in reality *and* virtually, which is kind of disturbing. So many wonderful books to read!

    1. I was just saying to someone on FB that it’s fascinating how much space stores are devoting to e-readers, both B&N’s Nook info desk and the Google ebooks displays at local indies.

      Interestingly, I think I buy more books with my e-reader and regular bookstores combined. It’s not an either or proposition for me.

  3. I used to enjoy browsing the local B&N – until their Nook display took up residence in the front half of the store. It’s a BOOKstore, not a NOOKstore – the books should not be secondary. I have no problem with them promoting their reader but I’d like to walk into the store and not wonder if I accidentally walked into Best Buy. I still go to B&N but it’s with a heavier heart.

    I was surprised to see the Borders near me close – there was always at least a small crowd in there and they hosted author signings, etc.

    I always think of that line from the TV show “Monk” – something like “I don’t mind change – as long as it doesn’t happen to me.” 🙂

    1. The Nook displays in B&N are definitely super-interesting to me. That’s a lot of real estate, and prime real estate at that, to devote to it. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

      I did a reading at the Borders in Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia and it was hopping. This was the week after the company declared bankruptcy, so I was really happy to see that. Of course we’re not privy to sales figures, so we can’t know for sure, but I do wonder whether a store that’s active as a community center also has higher sales.

  4. As has been noted, everything is changing but that doesn’t necessarily mean being phased out. We have a huge Barnes & Noblle located (honestly) just a three minute walk from a Borders Superstore that is remaining open. There’s also a Books-A-Million within five miles. Granted, Indie bookstores cannot be found — especially since Joseph Beth closed — BUT people are buying, reading, and asking for recommendations!

    1. That is amazing – Joseph-Beth was definitely a loss, but I am glad they’ve been able to retain some of their stores. But to have three huge bookstores right near you? JOY!

    1. Ha! I don’t think the question is whether books are disappearing entirely, but how we’ll get those books if not from bookstores.

      Fear not, we’re going to be buying and reading MAKING WAVES no matter what!

      1. It’s funny though, in my genre in particular, the first question people ask when I say, “I have a book coming out,” is “so I will I be able to find it at Barnes & Noble?” I think it’s because so many romance authors opt for self-publishing and e-publishing, so people are trying to determine where I fall in that spectrum. Er, maybe this should be my blog topic for Friday…


        1. That is interesting – I would love to hear more about it, so I won’t ask you to spill here, but I’m interested in how it might vary from genre to genre!

  5. Love this post — it’s really encouraging! It’s true — when I go into a bookstore I do tend to find it hopping, but seeing so many close makes it hard not to hear the death knell. I love the theory that book stores are morphing into something more like community centers. It’s really as it should be, since books are perfect to discuss and enjoy as a community.

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