Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thoughts From A True Bookie

I normally use this space to review books and will probably throw in thoughts on a few books I've read recently. Today, however, there is something on my mind about the whole Wal*Mart, Target, Amazon online price wars along with the whole Kindle, Nook, Alex e-reader electronic war. All the noise in the marketplace is really making me mad about the thing I love a lot - books, words, bookstores.

Now, I've talked in my blog, The Musings of a Latte Queen, before about my favorite bookseller, Pudd N'Head Books. Nikki recently celebrated the first birthday of the store. This is not an easy feat for any entrepreneur but even less easy for independent booksellers in this crowded and noisy landscape.

As an ex-marketing person, I completely understand the psychological war that the big guns are waging for the attention of fleeting readers. Most real book lovers do not look to the bestsellers list or chain stores for their literary fix. I certainly do not choose Wal*Mart first.

Yes, they, along with Target, Border's, Barnes & Noble, and even Sears (?) offer discounted books, those previously out-of-print, or new authors at reduced prices. I thoroughly enjoyed The Wednesday Sisters that I picked up at Target while shopping for toilet paper and paper towels. So I get the psychology of discounted prices for books tucked into the same cart with the Method dish soap and All laundry detergent. It is convenience for a nation that barely reads above the eighth grade level.

My angst, however, is that it will hurt the industry overall.

Wal*Mart is notorious for winning any price war (anyone remember the demise of the iconic FAO Schwartz back in 2003?) and it is bad business thinking to try to go after that behemoth on price. I almost laughed at the Huffington Post article that said once Amazon offered best sellers for $10, Wal*Mart countered with $9, then Target did $8.99 and then Wal*Mart responded with $8.98.

As if a true book lover will drive all the way over there to save a penny? It is on the heals of sharing cake with Nikki yesterday that I am just even more disgusted with the big blue box. Even if ordering online, that is just ridiculous. These stores do not value books the way I do, the way Pudd N'Head Books or Left Bank Books does. They would never ban together to bring in authors like Ron Currie, Jr. for a book reading. They would never email or call me with news of a new book in my favorite genre. They just don't get it.

I love boutiques. There is something magical that happens when I walk into Nikki's store and she greets me with her smile and a new book. She reads, actually reads books, as does her staff. She has a children's book expert that has endeared herself to my eight-year-old daughter. They know us. She knows that my daughter is only in 2nd grade but reads like a 4th and 5th grader. She smiled understandably when my daughter gave up her last $3 to help pay for the second installment of The Doll People. Only a true booklover can understand the desire to curl up under a warm blanket and be transported away to a writer's imagination.

The book wars are all about business. Capitalism gone wrong as the huffpo article suggested. It is not about me, the avid reader. It is not about finding new talent, there are millions of up and coming writers who crave for a spot on a shelf, crowded out by the war for the "best sellers". Where on this list is Angel of Harlem or Let The Lion Eat Straw or even The Cradle that I'm reading right now? Who decides what is a "best seller" and why should we care?

Care because books hold knowledge. Variety. Introduction to new lands and protagonists that capture one's heart and live in the soul. Care because if the only place to buy books was Wal*Mart, we would all be in a real literary desert. Care because some things are really worth the $25 price for a hardcover, first edition novel. Think about the independent bookseller who is part of the fiber and fabric of a neighborhood. And the author who has poured her soul into the words on paper. What about the publisher who took a chance on an unknown for the benefit of a great story?

This is the time for real book lovers to stand up, even quasi readers. There is a place for customer service and personal shopping and listening to authors read their works and even giving up one's last $3 to purchase a book when you are only eight.

There is a lifelong affinity being developed in my daughters and I do not want the big boy stores crowding them out. Just like FAO Schwartz, some places are legendary and need to exist.

This book lover can not be swayed to a cheap imitation of literary delight!

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