THIS is the paradox of modern bookselling. Even in an entertainment-saturated age, people still buy books. But the casual reader has many other places to get bestsellers and topical books, from warehouse stores to the mall. Meanwhile, book nuts — the ones who simply must buy several volumes a week — are lured online. Few businesses can survive that lose customers from both ends of the spectrum.
In 1995, anyone seeking a book that was the least bit uncommon had to have a store special order it from the publisher. If it was out of print, the would-be reader needed to trudge to the local secondhand shop, which would run a classified advertisement in AB Bookman’s Weekly, a magazine that circulated among book dealers. It was a hit-or-miss proposition.
AB Bookman’s Weekly went out of business in late 1999, an early Internet casualty. There are now half a dozen major Internet search engines that specialize in books. On one of them, AbeBooks.com, there are 44 copies of “The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.”
It’s hard for any single used bookstore to compete against this bounty, just as it’s impossible for any shop carrying new books to rival the electronic plenitude of Amazon. Because the Internet retailer doesn’t have to pay rent for display space or charge sales tax, its books are almost invariably cheaper too.
“I’d be really hard pressed to come up with a single social or demographic trend that is in favor of bookstores,” said Tom Haydon, whose Wessex Books in Menlo Park was for decades the best secondhand store in the 50-mile stretch between San Francisco and San Jose.
Marvel’s trying, though…the few ads in the Dark Tower’s initial issue are for an adaptation for The Last of the Mohicans, the hardcover collection of The Eternals (with an emphasis on “New York Times best-selling author, Neil Gaiman”), and a Dark Tower handbook. Incongruously, there’s also an ad for a collection of Civil War, which I guess Marvel had to squeeze in there to show off the characters that are their main bread ‘n’ butter. But the ads were nicely designed, looking like real print ads that one might see in a magazine read by the general populace, and not too disruptive to the flow of the book. Thank goodness there wasn’t one of those damned Wii ads stuck in the center.
The comic did sell very well on Wednesday…most of our regulars picked it up, and we did have several unfamiliar faces come in specifically for it. Having been through this sort of thing before, I know that a lot of these new faces probably won’t move into buying other comics aside from whatever particular focus of interest brought them through our door in the first place…and most of them will probably stop buying the comic long before the series is completed anyway. But, at least we can be polite, friendly, and helpful to them while they are shopping with us, and that will be more likely to bring them back to the store than, say, trying to hardsell them on other comics in order to force the “gateway” aspect of this event.
Got into a couple conversations about this over the past few weeks – there seems to be something in the water – and it turns out writers hate the 22 page story. Artists aren’t that crazy about it. Readers generally find it frustrating, particularly as prices creep upward. Retailers mostly seem fine with it, since it semi-guarantees a steady flow of product. Publishers? It’s the familiar format for most of them, but most, particularly small publishers, probably aren’t seeing much in the way of profit from them anymore. I doubt many editors would care one way or the other…
Readers aren’t particularly drawn to 22 page stories anymore for all kinds of reasons, but they’ve also been trained now to avoid mini-series, and they’re also resistant to anthologies and backup stories, which doesn’t leave publishers with a lot of options. As I’ve mentioned before, the logical step is a shift from many monthly, 22 page story comics to far fewer original graphic novels of varying length. It’s not quite here yet, but it’s not far off either. Monthly comics will always have a function – for keeping talent in the public eye, they’re apparently essential – but the 22 page story doesn’t, not really. It’s time to abandon the standard and let stories determine their own lengths – and publish/price accordingly.
And then, here’s the kicker, I would also receive an invoice for “restocking.” Yes, I will be charged a 10% fee for every single item I ordered over the last three months that hasn’t been shipped (or in some cases even printed) yet.
This is where my feathers ruffle.
Sure, I ordered the items and, in a perfect world, I would pay for them when they arrive, place them on my shelves and offer them to my customers for purchase. However, why am I the one taking the hit for companies not getting their product out on time? If I ordered “Book A” back in October, with the explicit expectation that it would be on my shelf in December and then it doesn’t show up until well into February or even later, how is that my fault?
The sad thing is, a lot of these unshipped items were special orders for customers who will never receive them (at least not from me). So I’m, in a sense, being penalized for wanting to provide excellent customer service.
“We started out by buying a used book and comic book store that was sharing a space over by the Royal Bank, Jamieson says. “This lady had a bunch of used books for sale and we looked at it. I always wanted to be involved in books so my sister and I thought, at the very least, we would be buying a whole bunch of reading material if things didn’t work out.”
“We were subletting a little space from what was then a pet store and trophy place. We did that for about a year then we moved into the mall and started to (bring in) new books. We learned as we went. After a while, we went across the hall in the mall into a bigger space.”
Clearly, things were going well for Book ‘Em in the early years. What happened for Jamieson to move out of the mall and sell the business? Basically, it came down to her making a choice. “My son is autistic. He needed more attention than I could give him and run a business at the same time. So, you want to pick one thing to do well, so I chose to be the parent.”
With that, she approached Ray Stern with an offer to sell Book ‘Em to him and to operate it jointly with Lakeside Office Supplies and Cartridge World.
“When I first spoke to Ray about having this kind of thing in his store, I told him that it is not a stand alone business in Slave Lake. Not just because of Slave Lake, it’s rather cultural at this point. People are buying (fewer) books. There are just too many other forms of entertainment out there completing with books today.”
Despite all of this, and so many other good reasons against it, there’s still a part of me that entertains the thought, fantasizing that somewhere down the road the bookstore / cafe / art space I’ve always imagined myself owning will become a reality.
Book ‘Em’s Carol Jamieson — “So, you want to pick one thing to do well, so I chose to be the parent.” — was a jarring reality check, though. If / when the dream becomes reality (whether that’s the store, or the directly connected dread dream* of full-time writing), it likely won’t be until my kids are at least in high school, which is at least 8-10 years down the road. Who knows what the industry will look like by then, and whether or not I’ll even care anymore?
* Typo, or Freudian slip?