From Seattle Mystery Bookshop:
I’ve worked here almost since the day it was open for business. At first, I was here just one day a week, so that Bill could have a day off – which he used to do bookkeeping at home. I remember their long dinning room table which was covered with pile after pile of paperwork. I don’t know where they ate dinner. Slowly, this place absorbed my life until my brain looked like Bill’s dining room table. In ’98, when he felt like stepping back from ownership, Bill offered to sell it to me but, happily, he kept working with us all. It has been a great honor to own the Seattle Mystery Bookshop since 1999. Sadly, that is now going to come to an end.
The Seattle Mystery Bookshop will close on Saturday, September 30th at the end of the day.
Why? There are so many reasons. Blame Amazon? Sure, that’s the easy thing to say but the massive changes in the world of bookselling are far larger than that. In fact, the changes in the over-all economy make it a much, much bigger story.
To be fair, you have to look back to the rise of mega-stores like Barnes & Noble. They were exciting but they began the phenomena of deeply discounting books. They wanted bodies in the stores, they wanted customers to buy books and CDs and calendars and to drink coffee and browse magazines and they were willing to use books as a loss leader to get you in there. And people went. There was no way for small independents to compete with what a large corporation could do, or what they demanded from the publishers. Publishers paid more attention to them because they had to. Publishers let them do things (claiming a certain percentage of damage from each shipment without detailing which and what; getting placement fees for putting books in prominent places; author events denied to small shops) not allowed to the small independents. That would come back to bite them when Borders collapsed and left a significant hole in the publishers’ business model.
The next blow to independent booksellers came from the rise of e-books and here, too, publishers made a terrible mistake. For decades, publishers released some books in hardcover and some as paperback originals – mass market paperbacks to be precise. In a year, the books in hardcover would usually be released in paperback. That way, those who could afford to buy hardcovers and who didn’t want or need to wait could get it when it was new. Those who couldn’t afford the hardcover price knew they could get it at the library or get it in paperback in a year. This was a model that allowed all budgets to get books – a true mass market for books.
. . . .
[Publishers] allowed a far less expensive version of their books to be available right away, undercutting the sale of hardcovers with the cheaper e-version. What they should’ve done was to give the hardcovers time to sell before releasing the e-book along with the mass market. But they didn’t. They way they did it took the legs out of the publishing of hardcovers. In reaction, in order to make up for dropping sales, they upped the price of all books, driving more of the market to the cheaper alternative of e-books. And they blew it with paperbacks, too. They said the marketplace was moving away from mass markets, that readers, and bookclubs, and booksellers wanted trade paperbacks at twice the price of the mass market. The mass market paperback was dead. If it was, they murdered it.
. . . .
The American Booksellers Association moved to stem the tide of readers going to e-books by making it possible for independents to sell them too. But it was pointless. You can’t pay the rent and your employees with the sale of dirt cheap e-books. That’s a business model that cannot work unless you’re a huge outfit that also sells tires and tubesocks.
. . . .
For the last decades, the entire publishing world – bookshops, publishers, authors – had been supported by huge post-WWII generations who moved up through their jobs and had the extra money to spoil themselves and their children, and to begin collecting books, collecting hardcovers. After all, there was no alternative to the printed book until books on tape in the late 80s. As their collections grew, they became more sophisticated in their collecting. They demanded first editions, preferably signed. They’d wait for them, not needing to read them when the book first came out, as long as they’d be able to add another signed copy to the shelves. They’d backfill too, searching for titles they’d missed from an author they’d only recently began to collect. Author tours became the thing and bestselling authors were created from huge lines of collectors and fans. Piles of books would evaporate during a signing and unknown writers quickly became bestsellers authors.
But now that generation of collectors has begun to retire from it. They’re downsizing from the homes in which they reared their children and are moving to smaller apartments or condos or retirement centers. They don’t have room for the collections they so lovingly built. They want them to go to others who will cherish them because their kids or grandkids don’t care.
. . . .
Then, too, there was me. I don’t have the easiest personality and I rub some/many people the wrong way. I can be too impatient and prickly and more than a few people have referred to me as a curmudgeon. I am all of that. I have always known that I have been the shop’s greatest drawback and I know it contributed, in some way, to the fall in sales. If I caused you to shop here less, I apologize.
. . . .
We’ve fought with publicity departments [at major publishers] for over two decades to be seen as a viable location for their Big Name authors. I’ve made the point that if they don’t send their Big Name authors to us we won’t be here to help their beginning authors get to be Big Names. I’ve beseeched authors we used to normally get for formal signings but who are now brought by only for stock signings that we need their help, that we need them to talk to their publicity departments. Most shrug it off, declining to get involved with tour schedules. Those who have benefited from the exposure and attention of little shops, who are so grateful for our help launching them into bestsellerdom suddenly do not wish to use their power and leverage to help those who gave them attention and benefits. “I contacted sales and all the tip-ins went to Barnes and Noble. I have no control over that…” Well who the hell has more control that a major bestselling author? We’ve done what that author said, we’ve repeatedly asked authors for help… and here we are.
Link to the rest at Seattle Mystery Bookshop and thanks to Dave for the tip.