Friday, June 22, 2012

Indie Bookstores Want Customers To "Buy Local" But Don't Want To Buy Local Themselves

Thanks to Book Inq., I came across an interesting article from the American Booksellers Association.  It's about how some independent bookstores work with self-published authors.

Some of the actions make sense.  For example, the bookstores that take damn near anything on consignment and give it a go--why not?  A lot of stock in bookstores does just sit around.  I've been going to some stores and I've seen some of the same books for years, and not different copies of the books, the same copies (Go to Mac's Backs in Cleveland Heights, Ohio USA sometime.  Please buy Corey Frost's My Own Devices.  It's a good book, and the poor thing's been sitting there for nearly a decade--well, you're there, pick up a copy of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus as well.).  So why not try something new?  If it sells, it sells.  If not, have the author come pick up the unsold books a couple of months later.

However, some of the actions don't make sense, either for the bookstore or the author.  Who on Earth would pay a store to hold a signing, and then let the store take 40% of the money from the sold books as well?  Here's a hint, authors.  Find a local coffeeshop or bar.  Tell 'em you'd like to hold a reading/signing and that the people who show up will likely buy some drinks.  Most likely they'll go for it, especially if you pick an off-night anyway (say, a Tuesday).  Then you make a flyer, send out some press releases, email some friends, and then go have a good time, and you get to keep 100% of the proceeds from the sold books.  The whole point of doing a signing through a store is that the author gets some help with the promotion and together the two make money.  Instead, it seems some of these stores are exploiting neophyte authors.  Admittedly, a lot of self-published material is crap (then again so is a lot of the stuff coming from major publishers--vampires who eat bears, anyone?), but that's no excuse to gouge them.  They're probably going to lose enough money on their vanity run as is.  Bookstores make a big deal about the cost of adding books, but that's mainly nonsense.  It's not hard to stick a few books on a shelf and enter them into computer inventory.  Whenever I'm in a bookstore, the clerk's usually reading a book instead of working anyway.  Bookstores, hold a reading for a self-published author.  It's not hard to set up some folding chairs.  Maybe people will show up and buy some other books as well.  Readings get people through the door of the store.  That's a good thing.

This issue is very ironic.  Most independent booksellers always make a big deal about shopping indie and buying local, yet many of them often sell only corporate products and are hostile to indie, local, and self-published fare.  This is an unfortunate tendency.  They should practice what they preach.  Many bookstores have closed over the past decade.  Many of the ones that have survived have survived precisely because they're providing things that Amazon and Barnes and Noble can't, which is a local touch.  Many of those self-published authors are customers, and it's likely they'll return the favor with patronage if the booksellers stick their books on the shelf and smile rather than turn them away or try to fleece them with an "administrative fee".  Are these bookstores taking business advice from Black Books or something?

Buy local and shop indie is for everybody, stores included.

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