Thursday, February 17, 2011

What can we do to save bookstores?

I woke up yesterday morning to the news that Borders had finally done what everyone in the publishing industry knew was inevitable. The company filed for bankruptcy. They are also planning to cut 200 of their stores nationwide.

Go ahead, call me a weenie, or maybe just pre-menopausal, but I couldn't help but feel my eyes water up. And it' s not just because that as a writer, I'm petrified of what's happening in publishing right now.

One of my most favorite things to do in the whole world is visit bookstores. I rank buying books above shopping for clothes, purses, perfume and yes, even shoes (hopefully this admission will not get me kicked out of the Stiletto gang!) But with bookstores closing right and left, the days of walking into a bookstore, buying a cup of designer coffee and gleefully perusing the aisles may soon be gone. Amazon and the ballooning ebook industry is doing to bookstores what WalMart (and please believe me, I have nothing personal against WalMart) did to mid level grocery stores and small mom and pop shops against the country. It's putting them out of business. This a conundrum I have no idea how to solve.

I love my e-reader (yes, it's a Kindle) and I spend more money at Amazon than my husband would like me to. I also spend a lot of money in brick and mortar bookstores. But like a lot of writers and people who read heavily, I'm probably in the minority on this. I really can't blame someone for opting to buy a book online for 9.99 with free shipping and handling from the comfort of their home vs. getting in their car and using their precious gasoline to purchase the same book for a couple of dollars more at a store (which may or may not even stock the book).

Last October, I attended the Novelists, Inc. one day conference on the future of publishing in St. Petersburg. There were some really big names on the panel and the discussions were eye-opening to say the least. The bottom line was that publishing is in a huge state of change right now. Publishing houses are scrambling to keep up with the e-pub phenomena. E-publishing is to us what the advent of the printing press was in it's time. We know we're in for some big changes, but everyone is unclear how those changes are going to effect everyone else.

As one little person against the tide of change, my hope is that, whatever happens, people keep buying books in whatever form they come in. But I hope there will still be places (real, physical locations) that people can go to and talk to one another in person about books and peruse aisles to see fabulous covers and touch a page with their own hands. I can't save the world but I can recycle and pick up my own trash. I probably can't save all the bookstores, but I can continue to patronize my local store and buy books in person.

On a happier note, this is my first post as a bona fide member of the Stiletto Gang and I would like to thank the rest of the gang members, Susan, Evelyn, Maggie, Rachel and Marilyn for inviting me to be a part of this fabulous group. I promise, my next post won't be so serious.

Hasta luego!



  1. Welcome Maria.

    I remember when there use to be a bookstore on every other corner (okay, maybe every 10 blocks), where you can go in and flip through a book or take a seat in a chair and read for a few minutes even if it's to relax before moving on. I missed those days.

  2. Good morning, Maria!! I'm so glad to see you here and I do love your first grog post. Even though I completely full-heartedly love my Kindle-I do hate to see all of these stores closing. But when all is said and done, it's not the electronic books doing it, it's the big high priced publishers making it hard to go to the dance. It's sad really, but it's the beast we writer's have chosen to play with:)

  3. Hi Dru, thanks for the welcome:)

    Tonya, I'll be honest, it's all so confusing to me. I just saw the list released on Border's creditors. My publisher (Penguin USA) was at the top. I think Borders owed them something to the tune of 45 million dollars. Yikes!
    It will be interesting (and nail biting) to see how all this plays out with other bookstores as well.

  4. I hate the thought that so many bookstores are closing. My Borders is one of them. So far I don't have an ereader but I'm guilty of buying print books at cheaper prices at Target etc. I think that someday everyone will either buy ebooks or buy their print books on line for less than the bookstores can afford to sell them. It's sad.

  5. Maria: We are so happy that you're here! It's funny...I saw a Borders' gift card on my husband's dresser this past weekend and told him he'd better get to the one closest to us as soon as possible because rumor had it they were going out of business. I'm glad he did. People are always telling me that I should take empty real estate in our village and open a mystery bookstore until I remind them that a) I'm a writer not a bookstore owner and b) they would have to come in regularly and make significant purchases in order for the store to survive. I have friends who own indies and they have to be really creative to stay in business. It makes me sad to think that at some point in the not-too-distant future, we may not be able to wander the aisles of a brick-and-mortar store, picking up whatever strikes our fancy. Maggie

  6. I totally agree with you Maria. Even though I own a Kindle I still love going to Borders and Barnes and Noble and was crushed when I heard that Borders was filing for bankruptcy. Sooo not fair. I really hope it can be saved somehow, by some miracle.

  7. I checked and the Borders closest to me is not closing. I'm glad because it's the only bookstore within an hour's drive except for a small used bookstore 17 miles away. (It's the store where I do my book launches.)

    What makes me saddest about all these closings is all the people who will be out of work.

    And yes, I love my Kindle too, though I do buy paper books but mostly when I'm attending a book event for another author.


  8. Maria, it's so great to have you here! And what a fab first post. You expressed my feelings so completely (except that I don't own a Kindle or any e-reader--and won't, if I can help it!). I was so, so sad about the Borders situation but I knew their financial state had been rocky for quite awhile. So this isn't something that e-books caused but it certainly didn't help. We have two Borders in St. Louis closing (one that doesn't surprise me and one that does). My local Borders is staying put. We are so lucky here to have the chains and some wonderful indies, and I hope there's room for everyone, even as publishing shifts (and it's the only business model that still lets retailers RETURN unsold merchandise for credit, so far as I that part must change!). It's a time when all businesses need to get creative and shake up how they do things. Being big and bloated only seems to benefit Wall Street (too big to fail--ha!)! Anyway, love this post. You gave us so much to think and talk about. And, girl, I think every member of Stiletto would say they buy books before shoes, too! (Er, am I ruining our image?) ;-)


  9. I hate to see Border's is closing so many stores, especially when the 2 they are closing in MO are the ones closest to my house. So what's to keep me from ordering online now (with free shipping) will be cheaper than driving to a different borders that's further away. upset to see this. I try to purchase books from stores rather than online to help them out, but now, that might end up changing.

  10. Thanks for all the great comments and insights. Luckily, the Borders in Tallahassee is not closing. I rarely go there because it's on the other side of town from me, but I'm going to make it a priority to stop there every once in a while.

  11. Maria, it's nearly 11pm here, so I'm reading your post late, but it's been emotional couple of days for me, too, to see these Borders stores closing. I read the list and 2 of my favorites will soon be gone, including the one where I held my very first signing...

    I've been thinking about getting either a Kindle or a Nook for a while, but it would be as an additional reading tool for me if I did it (mostly so I could buy my friends' ebook-only releases ;), not as a replacement for paper books.

    But, sigh. To get to go into a real live bookstore, get some coffee and a slice of orange cake and browse...ohhhh, that will always be heaven to me.

    Wonderful first post, BTW!!! :)

  12. Hi Marilyn, Thanks for stopping by:)
    I'm so sad about your Borders closing. Like I said I don't know what's going to happen to the industry. Big changes are coming for sure and we'll all have to roll along with the tide.