Why Bookstores Can’t Avoid Politics

From Publishers Weekly:

The most glaring challenge to access to books today stems from attacks on school and public libraries by right-wing politicians and activists. In Texas, lawmakers are trying to regulate how books are sold to schools. Libraries frequently receive bomb threats, including in a recent spate in the Chicago area. These are brazen and dangerous attacks on our democracy as well as fundamental challenges to bookstores—but they’re not the only challenge that books and booksellers face.

Almost every bookseller has heard some version of “$18 for a paperback! Books are so expensive!” Given the thousands of hours of skilled labor a book requires, $18 really should be considered cheap. But $18 is still too much for many people. Once they’ve paid their rent, health insurance premiums, student loans, car loans, phone bills, and other utility bills, and fed and clothed their families, there isn’t enough left to buy the books they want. Readers who should be booksellers’ customers aren’t.

Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. The minimum wage in 1968, when adjusted for inflation, would have been worth $12 per hour today. According to data from the Federal Reserve and Realtime Inequality, if the federal minimum wage were to have grown with increases in productivity since 1968, it would’ve been $21.50 in 2020. Since 1980, the top 1% has seen its income grow 235.3%, while the bottom 50% has only seen an increase of 29.8%. We talk about the erosion of the American middle class in many other contexts, but I rarely see it discussed in terms of the ways in which it impacts small businesses in a consumer-spending-driven economy.

Those same expenses that eat into customers’ discretionary spending strain bookstore owners, too. We pay for health insurance for our employees, dramatically reducing our potential wages. We get squeezed on rent; too often we are forced to move from successful locations because landlords want more money. These economic conditions aren’t natural phenomena. Low wages and exorbitant healthcare, housing, and education costs are the result of policy decisions made to support some populations at the expense of others. And though none of those policies target bookstores, they still hit us.

My book, The Art of Libromancy, focuses on the changes booksellers can make to stores that will impact the publishing industry and the wider world. But booksellers also need to look at the challenges facing all small businesses and all Americans, and consider techniques for change that may have made us uncomfortable in the past. The American Booksellers Association has used litigation in the past, notably when it sued publishers and Barnes & Noble over unfair discounts; the shop local movement seeks to change both the culture of individual communities and influence municipal, state, and federal policy; and the ABA and many booksellers engage in antitrust and anti-censorship advocacy. These political actions have a direct focus on bookstores. But, taking a larger view, can we really argue that the collapse of the American middle class only indirectly affects our industry?

. . . .

That confronting these specific challenges overlaps with other political conflicts over social and economic justice shouldn’t make us fear accusations of partisanship. Rather we should look at is as an opportunity for solidarity and community with those who have been fighting these battles for decades.

Too many people in this country can’t afford the goods and services—and books—they want because of policies that transfer wealth from the working class to the rich and powerful. As much as booksellers may want to remain nonpartisan, we have to recognize that many of the challenges our stores face are political and, at least today, partisan. I believe if bookstore owners focus on community building and cultivating long-term booksellers, we can run profitable bookstores that pay livable wages—even if we are hamstrung by these challenges. But imagine if we weren’t.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

“My book, The Art of Libromancy, focuses on the changes booksellers can make to stores that will impact the publishing industry and the wider world.”

When PG goes into a physical bookstore, the last thing he wants to be confronted with is politics. If a bookstore couldn’t avoid politics, PG would head out the door and order a book from Amazon.

PG notes that the author of the OP is the co-owner of a bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While the author is correct that the federal minimum hourly wage is $7.25 per hour, Massachusetts has set a state minimum wage of $15.00 per hour and PG hopes that the employees of his bookstore are paid that amount.

The Art of Libromancy is published by Biblioasis, “a literary press based in Windsor, Ontario, committed to publishing the best poetry, fiction and non-fiction in beautifully crafted editions.”

From the Biblioasis website:

If books are important to you because you’re a reader or a writer, then how books are sold should be important to you as well. If it matters to you that your vegetables are organic, your clothes made without child labor, your beer brewed without a culture of misogyny, then it should matter how books are made and sold to you.

For the record, although Biblioasis and The Art of Libromancy don’t appear to be PG’s cup of tea, he thinks child labor and misogyny are bad things.

He’s happy to have fresh vegetables, regardless of how they’re raised or fertilized.

However, if you’re worried about the welfare of those who aren’t as wealthy as many others in society, you should understand that organic produce costs substantially more to raise and purchase than produce raised with fertilizer and harvested mechanically.

Using the most efficient means of cultivating food grains, America and Canada are able to raise far more food than their populations can eat. Every year, each nation exports a huge amount of food to the rest of the world at very low prices.

If you would like a bit more Mom and apple pie, per research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “family farms remain a key part of U.S. agriculture, making up 98% of all farms and providing 88% of production.”

PG grew up on family farms and ranches and drank milk from various dairy cows milked mostly by his father but also by PG on occasion. PG helped his family raise beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens in varying quantities until he left home to attend college.

PG has been chased by upset cattle and mother pigs under a wide range of circumstances and shoveled (and occasionally slipped and fallen onto) a lot of nasty-smelling manure on more occasions than he can remember.

After such adventures, his mother almost always made younger PG leave his boots outside then strip to his underwear in the basement or mud room, where he rinsed his dirty clothing in a large basement sink used for dealing with those sorts of adventures. Thereafter, he put his clothes into a washing machine with a little extra soap to clean them up for their next outdoor adventure.

3 thoughts on “Why Bookstores Can’t Avoid Politics”

  1. I wish readers could leave comments on articles like the OP @ Publisher’s Weekly and elsewhere so the bunkum spewed by elitist Leftists could be countered with rational thought and reality.

  2. your beer brewed without a culture of misogyny

    Can someone enlighten us? What are the offending aspects of beer brewing? I suspect he’s defining a small group of very special people.

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