“The smallest bookstore still contains more ideas of worth than have been presented in the entire history of television.”
Opening a bookstore one day has been at the top of my Dream Job / Do What You Love short-list for years, and despite it sometimes seeming about as practical as wanting to become a blacksmith or full-time poet, I haven’t given up hope.
I’m a firm believer that independent bookstores are not only critical to the viability of the publishing industry, but also to the cultural and economic fabric of local communities. I’m not anti-Barnes & Noble or Amazon (though I DO hate Wal-Mart on general principle) because I think they serve a more general audience than the independent bookseller can or should attempt to. Indies are Peter Luger’s to B&N’s 7/11, if you will — quality over quantity; curation over commodity.
BUT, I think making that the central pitch of why independent bookstores are important is lame, whiny and stinks of entitlement.
No indie bookseller is going to be able to compete with Amazon or Barnes & Noble on price, selection or ecommerce—IndieBound is well-intentioned but doesn’t even come close to being enough—but they are much better-suited for engaging with their customers, offline and on, than either behemoth.
In preparing for next week’s webinar, Indie Booksellers and the Digital Transition: Opportunity Knocks?, I’ve thought about the bookstores I like, and have been looking for good examples of any that are leveraging the Internet to complement their physical presence, and beyond some solid blogs, haven’t found much of note.
While a blog is a nice start, most tend to only represent the bookseller itself, not its customers nor its local community. And as Vroman’s discovered last week, as popular as Twitter is in the publishing industry, it probably isn’t the ideal forum to reach a local audience of book buyers.
Despite the lip service paid to the importance of independent bookstores to local communities, though, I’ve yet to find any real sense of community on any bookseller’s site. Most are extremely self-centered, either focusing solely on ecommerce; following the personal branding model of social MEdia gurus; or worse, the sad equivalent of a Yellow Pages listing.
When it’s so much easier to go online to Amazon.com and shop, read and write reviews, and even to browse—what can the independent bookseller possibly offer to get me to spend my time and money on their websites and in their stores?