Bookstores are great. There is nothing more satisfying than walking into your neighborhood bookstore and reading all the wonderful staff recommendations. Bookstores honor and create space for needed conversation in a society that generally does not value the production of art.
But as much as bookstores contribute to a richer human culture, I think sometimes we, especially us authors and book industry people, end up romanticizing bookstores a tad too much. I often see folks talk about bookstores with the same impassioned fervor that I generally reserve for libraries.
Libraries are public goods that help foster a better civil society by making books freely available to the public. Bookstores are undoubtedly places that can help educate the public, but always at a price. Bookstores need to make a profit in order to stay in business.
Which means that as much as we love bookstores, they are not, nor should they need be, the sole place where people get their books. Let’s remember that new hardcover novels can sell for up to thirty dollars. Thirty dollars is, as fellow author Kai Doore would put it, “nothing to sneeze at.”
I love bookstores. I’ve benefited personally by taking writing workshops at indie bookstores. I’ve contributed hundreds of dollars in sales to indie bookstores, and I love to see bookstores pop up in neighborhoods where there have historically been none. Yes to literary communities around the world! We need bookstores to exist. Their existence should be treasured.
I love bookstores, but I also love honest conversations about money. I can’t deny that when I walk into a bookstore, whether it’s an indie or not, I know I’m going to be spending some considerable cash. And I can distinctly remember a point in my life, maybe because I’m not so far away from it, where walking into a bookstore and buying several books (the way that I do today, spending hundreds of dollars on novels or gift cards or whatever!) was an impossibility. A real luxury.
So this week, as we advocate for indie bookstores, I also want to advocate for all the ways that people decide to enjoy books. Libraries! Used bookstores! Thrift stores! Swapping with friends!
It’s all reading and it is ALL valid.
Support your indie bookstore as much as you can, because these are places you would regret not existing. These are places that still truly LOVE and value art (just talk to ANY bookseller!) and often support local authors’ livelihoods by hand selling their books. I encourage you to visit your indie bookstore and even if you can’t buy the newest hardcover, buy an old paperback or a notebook.
But from one formerly broke reader to another? I support you doing what you need to read.