The Living Bookstore

The bookstore hasn’t died yet, fortunately.

Good news for communities (bookstores are anchors for neighborhoods), good news for readers, good news for writers. Even good news for e-reading fans.

According to the industry trade publication Publishers Weekly, bookstores had a very good holiday season, with many stores reporting sales increases of 10% or more in the last couple of months of the year.

Books are private things, of course, and reading one of the most reflective ways of engaging with another mind. But bookstores are community-centric, fostering the sharing of ideas, even if the consumer consumes the content in private. E-readers, for all their convenience, tap into that part of us that does not want to engage: we click and download.

I stopped by my neighborhood Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side of Manhattan yesterday, and the place was buzzing. Even though a good portion of the store was given over to a boutique for the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader – and people were hovering around it, apparently eager to buy – other parts of the store were equally bustling.

This could have been the result of post-holiday gift-card splurges. But I think it’s because people still gravitate toward bookstores as a place to browse and, maybe, buy books (and calendars and stationery and toys – but whatever a bookstore needs to sell in order to remain solvent is okay with me).

I still believe the publishing world is continuing to evolve toward one where more and more writers will consider the option of self-publishing. Many writers, frustrated by their inability to find an agent (agents seem to spend most of their time avoiding reading submissions or answering query letters and hunt for new clients by scanning the lists of bestselling self-published titles), have decided to self-publish. I believe self-publishing will become more accepted as a viable alternative to being published by a traditional publishing house.

And as the media still controls the message of what books are supposedly worthy of being read (it’s the rare self-published book that gets reviewed in a newspaper or magazine, and no newspaper publishes bestseller lists of self-published books), an author may have decide to find fame in another way through engaging with an audience directly. That’s what platforms are for. The world will come around sooner or later.

Still, bookstores remain a viable option for all kinds of books. More and more bookstores are even likely to consider stocking self-published books. Some are even publishing their own, such as Prairie Lights, in Iowa City, Iowa.

So, bookstores may soon publish, and become even more of a go-to place than before, whether the book is put out by a big-name publisher or by the author. In the meantime, browse away, and start the year by buying a book.

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