Are My Local Bookstores Dead Yet?

I’ll keep this short. I want to read Roberto Bolano’s new book The Savage Detectives. Really I do. I love Latin American literature.  And Amazon says this big novel is one of the top ten novels for 2007. But there’s a small problem.  And it’s not the author’s fault.

Friday I was in Ithaca, New York. I stopped in the Cornell Store and saw that they were selling the book for the list price, $27.00. This seems like a lot of money for a book, even though it’s new and hardcover and I want it. When I got home, I found in my email box an advertisement from Amazon offering me this very book at 40% off, for $16.20. And I could get free shipping if my order totaled $25.00. How could this be? I wondered.

So I went to, my favorite used online bookseller, and I found used copies of the book beginning at $16.79 plus shipping.  In other words, the used books (probably review copies) were more expensive than the new book from Amazon delivered to my mailbox.

I want to support my local, independent bookseller.  That would be The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts, which has been a community institution for more than thirty years.  I love that bookstore.  I have given readings there.  I have attended readings there.  Matthew, the owner, has good wine at readings.  He has a great selection of books.  He stocks books people love.  And he’s succeeded even though Barnes and Noble opened a store nearby.  But I digress.  I want to support my local bookseller.

But as far as Roberto Bolano’s book is concerned, is my commitment to independent bookstores worth $11? For this one book? I’d like to think it was, but frankly, I can hear padlocks snapping shut on the front doors of most independent booksellers near here. That would be a terrible.

And now that Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, etc. are approaching, and the gifting season is upon us, people who give gifts probably want to stretch their gift-giving funds.  I’m worried.  Because all of that desire to save drives people to Amazon and B&N.  And that’s is a real danger not only for my friend’s bookstore, but also for the lovely, lively, local, independent institution of bookstores generally.

Please think about this briefly before you shop. I don’t want bookstores to go the way of the small town hardware store.  


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  1. As always, thanks for reading.

    • RiaD on November 20, 2007 at 15:21

    it IS worth it! That $11 will buy your friend a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread & a sticka butta…but more importantly is the sense of community….

    at the readings (with wine!), as you meet your neighbors there & share trivial details of your lives, as your friend orders a book specially for you- or calls when he gets one in for you…

    that sense of community will be lost when the local bookstores close.

    So buy One really good book for each person you love …leave off all the foo-faw gifts and detrius of the season.

  2. We in Milwaukee are blessed with Harry W. Schwartz bookshops, a fine example of what independent bookstores can be.  They seem to be surviving and swimming against the tide.

    I have resolved to buy books only from them and not Amazon or other online stores, although I continue to buy music and used books online.

    It’s worth it if it helps keep the indies alive.

    • RiaD on November 20, 2007 at 15:35

    this is by David Wilcox

    An angel appeared

    in a holy vision

    Stood by my bedside

    in shivering light

    Spoke my name

    Told me my mission

    I could not believe I was hearing him right

    Because he said, ‘Go, my son, go…

    Always go to East Asheville Hardware

    Before you go to Lowe’s

    He said, “Go to East Asheville Hardware

    Before you go to Lowe’s

    You’ll help to keep them open

    I’m worried they might close

    From the stiff competition

    From the national conglomerate

    With the full page ad

    in the color section of the Sunday paper supplement

    and stacks of plastic swimming pools

    and seven brands of power tools

    and rows and rows of registers

    all having nice days

    But no, you go, he said to me with light around his face

    He said, You go first to that age-old place

    To that old wooden door

    that you have to close behind you

    To the wide-board wooden floor

    worn down soft

    To the real thing

    Good advice, quality at a fair price

    And know that they know how deep the frost goes here.

    Sure there’s stuff you’ll have to find at Paty’s, Lowe’s or Sears

    But go to East Asheville Hardware

    Go to East Asheville Hardware

    Before it disappears.


    • pfiore8 on November 20, 2007 at 16:15

    and i loved that place. they knew me and the owner always recommended movies i enjoyed. and we’d talk about movies because, guess what? he had the store because he LOVED film.

    love the indie books stores…

  3. is

    The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza

    and for those wanting to print books of oh I don’t know…the best posts on DocuD….or…Digital Political Artwork…check out these guys:

    The Troy Bookmakers – they only do paperbacks right now but you can do all your own editing or have them do it for you.  They prefer Word Files if they’ll do the editing or PDF files if you did all the editing.

  4. “If I owned a bookstore I’d make the mystery section really hard to find.”

    • Pluto on November 20, 2007 at 18:19

    The book is going bye-bye. Tomorrow, Amazon releases Kindle They put a ton of money into this. You can even blog with it anywhere.

    Amazon’s Kindle is a handy little device that will allow you to read books, magazines and newspapers. Its about the size of a piece of paper and fairly thin and runs on very little battery. It only uses up the battery when you change screens or turn the page.

    The great thing is that the eBook is that it will have a 3G internet connectivity straight from Sprint’s network. Which means you can download more books and magazines from wherever you happen to be. Books will sell for around $10 and magazines for $1.25 per month.

    For more info, go to Google News or your favorite news source and search “Kindle.” In stores tomorrow.

  5. and Child’s Play: these are the proprietary retail outlets which with I’m familiar in my area. I also infrequently patronize a B&N brick n mortar outlet. For a brief period I canvassed this brand, Borders, convenience and grocery stores for specific periodicals. I am a parent. I am a discriminating reader; I source footnotes and bibliography. The first time in 40 years that I purchased a book at an airport branded-satellite was this year — I wanted to spend surplus foreign currency. I value highly direct and indirect content reviews; in my youth I read NYT Book Review weekly and selected Santa deliveries; I rarely read fiction now. I really don’t personally identify with authors. I care nothing about “loyalty program” price discounts since the effective “reward” is negligible with respect to total disposable income budgeted, typically < $15, three days of Starbuck’s latte; otherwise I do patronize my local library, $0 expense.

    These are factors that determine my book purchase preference. How weird am I?

    P&P actively coordinates its marketing and social activities; it schedules events that are same-store “fundraisers” for client institutions or title-specific promotions that attract socialable prospective buyers. I have not attended any events except a few institutional fundraisers, so to purchase deliberately P&P stock, revenues of which are partly distributed to the institution of my choice.

    Child’s Play specializes in sales of juvenalia. Book inventory is, by volume, obviously incidental. If I purchase print or audio literature there, I already have approved the edition of a particular title. This store does not organize events.

    In either case, proprietary in DC-metro offer little diversity in selection, immediate gratification. Selection was a limitation in NYC.

    Because my purchases are sourced from footnotes and bibliography or “lost” inventory, I am confident of my book selections through intermediaries such such as Amazon or Powells or certain “vanity” presses. Frequency of purchases of used books to virgin editions, is somewhat arbitrary, depending on hardcover to paperback availability, utility, and probable “pollution,” marginalia, as qualified. I always buy hardcopy for its durability and portability.

  6. Portland OR, where bookstores are almost as abundant as coffee shops. I say it’s worth it to pay more. I have gone local for as much as I can from food to books. I look at it as a political act, because putting my money where my mouth is, is probably the only meaningful democratic vote I have these days.

    The money you spend locally ripples beyond the bookseller and stays in the community at least 3 times longer then money which goes straight to corporate headquarters. I have also found that the stock is better maybe not for best sellers but you can find those books off the beaten path and browsing is fun. I love readings and keeping those alive is important. Nice to see you here, good topic.  

  7. in particular Barnes & Noble.

    We’re not in the states now but I’d be curious what anyone comes up with, repeating our experiment of searching for books on Israel.  Any books on Israel:  geography, biography, whatever.  We found in B&N we could find but five titles, three which at the time were over three years old, and none which gave any exhaustive analysis – pro, con, right, left – of any issues!

    This seemed like a strange omission indeed, and I don’t doubt that “someone” is stacking the deck on bookstores.

    • Valtin on November 21, 2007 at 06:13

    community where I live, there were six used bookstores within a few miles radius. Now, there are none there. One of them moved to a smaller, presumably rent-cheaper area about ten miles away.

    Last week I learned it, too, was going out of business.

    There is nothing to replace these bookstores, and the pleasure and the knowledge gained from browsing through the books printed in years goneby, and now out of print. While I am pleased I can find almost any used book I want online, and order from around the world, I cannot browse in an effective way their catalogues. Online, I find only what I am looking for, or in some narrow range.

    Surprise and adventure is dead. The past is buried. We must await a new beginning, only after this hideous period plays out its final gotterdammerung.

      • kj on November 20, 2007 at 16:13
    • frosti on November 21, 2007 at 15:58

    in Oregon, but some of them feel threatened by chainstores. We have 2 used bookstores, the university bookstore, an independent bookstore, Borders, and a couple of Christian bookstores.  I found an architect for my remodel by perusing the architecture section in the independent bookstore; this section was more comprehensive and “green” than the chain store.  For anything unusual, the independent store is unbeatable. However, I admit to using discount coupons frequently for mainstream items.

    My favorite is Powell’s bookstore at the airport. A good way to kill time.  

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