Indie Bookstores – Future Hopes or Futile Endeavors?

According to a recent article in Britain’s The Guardian:

Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, said the [British] government should look seriously at the French initiatives and “wake up” to the damage Amazon is causing to the book trade and the retail sector in general. . . . Jones said it would be “lovely” if Maria Miller, [British] secretary of state for culture, media and sport, spoke up about the cultural importance of books. “Books are thought of as high culture in France and Germany, they’re not really here.”

And what the French are doing:

France pledged €9m [ca. $12 million US] of funding to help its booksellers fight back against the “destroyer of bookshops” [i.e., Amazon].

. . . Filippetti . . . said she was considering banning Amazon from being able to offer free postage and may end the system allowing 5% discounting on books.

France has fixed book prices, dating back to a 1981 law, which means readers pay the same whether they buy from an online retailer high-street shop or small bookseller. The law allows for a maximum discount on books of 5%. In discounting books by 5%, Amazon is not breaking the law. But small booksellers argue they can’t compete because Amazon also provides free postage and free fast delivery deals on top of the 5% discount.

It’s more complicated when you look at the picture from our role as an indie publisher. Crickhollow Books has a different challenge than an indie bookstore. Though we might wish otherwise, indie bookstores are no longer our biggest sources of support; there are great pockets of bookstore support for what we do, but it is localized, book-specific, and is, frankly, shrinking. We yearn for past decades when indie bookstores were our lifeline, but is that mostly nostalgia?

Has the literary world changed? Have bookstores become coffee houses and venues for famous author tours?

And doesn’t Amazon provide a service to indie publishers and readers by making available our books . . . that indie bookstores don’t stock or show or recommend?

For comparison, go to the IndieBound.org link for Didn’t We Have Fun! It’s a well-reviewed and (minor) award-winning children’s picture book by Crickhollow Books, depicting an African-American childhood in Philadelphia. We think the book is significant and worthwhile. But at IndieBound . . . it not only has no review or indications of awards there . . . it doesn’t even show the picture-book’s cover!

Mama Reading a Book, painting by Hilda Robinson

Mama Reading a Book with Sleeping Child, painting by Hilda Robinson, from her picture book, Didn’t We Have Fun!

In contrast, the Amazon page shows the cover, notes the 5-star ranking, cites awards & recognition for excellence, includes a review line by Don Tate, a noted African-American illustrator of wonderful picture books, published in The Brown Bookshelf,  (an outstanding site for reviews),  noting: “Didn’t We Have Fun! . . . perfectly exemplifies what is best about indy publishing – it’s quality art for the sake of quality art. . . . ”

And Amazon gives a set of 3 insightful customer reviews from actual parents and educators.

Amazon also provides a discount (it doesn’t affect what we get as publisher), and a chance for free shipping. Yes, these discounts are competition to an indie bookstore. But they . . . and all the detailed info . . . are a benefit to a customer, encouraging them to buy this book.

Nonethless, we clearly share a mission with indie bookstores: to bring worthy books to the attention of individual people, one by one, with an eye to what is beneficial for the cultures of places where we live, for the world of literature & authors, and for the personal needs of real-life, in-the-flesh customers – people seen as neighbors as well as sources of financial income.

Comments? What are your thoughts? I’d like to hear from you.

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