Of all the booksellers I’ve met over the years, no doubt the busiest is Mitchell Kaplan. In addition to overseeing Miami’s venerated Books & Books stores, Kaplan is a co-founder of the Miami Book Fair, a former president of the American Booksellers Association, and the most recent recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award. So it was pretty surprising to see Kaplan himself when I read at his flagship store in Coral Gables last month.
Even more striking was the book Kaplan giddily showed me: a new anthology of stories by South Florida writers called “Blue Christmas: Holidays Stories for the Rest of Us.” (As a former Miamian, I’d written a piece for the collection.)
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said, gazing at the deep-blue cover.
Kaplan is a guy who gets excited about all sorts of books. The difference, in this case, is that he published “Blue Christmas.” More precisely, his new imprint, B&B Press, released the book. It thus represents a heartening trend in the brave new world of publishing. Rather than trimming their sails, a number of independent booksellers are taking a page from Amazon by producing titles themselves.
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As publishers, indies enjoy a few distinct advantages over the competition. First, they can emphasize titles of local interest by local writers. Second, they can showcase the books in their shops. Third, because of advances in printing, they can bring books to market more quickly than traditional publishers. Just as important, when an independent bookstore sells a copy of one of their own titles, they collect all the profits, rather than a sliver. Consider it a poor man’s version of vertical integration.
Kaplan told me he hoped other bookstores would take up small-scale publishing. That’s already happening.
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The leap into publishing by indies can be seen as the literary equivalent of the locavore movement. It not only emphasizes local writers, and local subjects, but also asks residents to support a local business with their dollars.
Teter is under no illusion about the forces arrayed against independent bookstores, not the least of which is the rise of electronic books. But she, along with her compatriots, is cautiously optimistic that small-scale publishing can be part of the answer, by providing an alternative to traditional publishers and Amazon, which are increasingly focused on books they can turn into national bestsellers.
As Kaplan reminded me, the true value of a great independent bookstore resides in its connection to a particular community: “If someone loves our bookstore, has been coming in for years, understands what we’re trying to do, and you can put a great book in their hands that was published by our store, I mean, who’s going to say no to that?”
Link to the rest at Salon