Monday, January 19, 2009

Independent booksellers: Who are they? Why do they do what they do? And does it matter?

Brad Craft, the used book buyer at Seattle's University Books - and at one time both the manager and the inventory manager of two different Stacey's Bookstore locations in San Francisco - has posted a lovely essay on independent booksellers, who they are, why they do what they do, and what the world ultimately loses when an independent bookstore passes:
Without becoming too mired in the jargon of bookselling and publishing, let me just begin by suggesting that the whole business of books is, has always been, and Gods willing, will always be an irrational, impractical and frankly foolhardy enterprise. The suggestion that anyone can, or has, or ought to make a proper, well organized, smooth-running machine of Market Capitalism out of writing, printing, publishing or selling books, is as familiar, and touching to booksellers, however humble, as it is to anyone else who may have spent their lives in the service of books. Many a better man and woman of business than me has been broken on that wheel. Business, and in particular the business of books, has seen many an entrepreneur rise and fall in the tide of print. Many have made fortunes, or at least reputations as innovators and great capitalists from books, from the man who opened bookstalls in Victorian train-stations, to the the popularizer of classics in paperback, to Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. Each is to be well remembered and applauded for their contributions to the culture as well as for their business acumen and willingness to risk their own and other people's money in such, for the time, questionably profitable gambles. But for every innovator in publishing and selling, there have always been hundreds or possibly even thousands of less daring souls, readers and retailers, bibliophiles and buyers and tradesmen more like... well, me.
Read the rest here.

1 comment:

shsilver said...

I worked for a major chain for a few years, but I brought an Independent bookseller's mentality to it. I built up the sections of the bookstore I was most interested in (SF and history) by special ordering books and then putting them in the stacks. I also refused to return certain books when the corporate offices told us to. And I hand sold. One book I sold, which had come out several years earlier and was all but out of print, I hand sold 28 odd copies in a year, which turned out to be all except for two copies the book sold nationwide that year.

It got to the point where I was selling books to employees of other chain bookstores in the area because our sections were so much better than theirs and it was easier for them to stop in and buy the books rather than order them for their store.