Sunday, January 4, 2009

Big Box Thoughts, Miscellaneous Tidbits

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) in June 1856 (aged 39).

Big Box Thoughts

Right now, I am reading Big Box Swindle The True Cost of Mega Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Business by Stacy Mitchell. This book is a statement against mega-retailers and megamalls.

I have some reasons to be against some of the larger retailers. In Manhattan, there used to be two independent science fiction bookstores. Both of them are closed. Barnes and Noble and Borders forced them out of business. Amazon also ate into their profits. At the time which Amazon was competing with the other bookstores, it was not turning a profit. It did not turn a profit in its first six years and was almost entirely bolstered by its stock price.

I have seen many small bookstores close. When a Barnes and Noble moves into a neighborhood it is often subsidized by local government because it promises to bring in more jobs. It does not matter that they will pay less wages, and the majority of the money earned will not go back into the local economy, but will go to the stockholders of Barnes and Nobles.

I have watched book culture get devastated in Manhattan. With the closure of many of the independent bookstores like Shakespeare and Company, Coliseum Books, and many of the smaller specialty stores, there were less and less literary readings. I used to spend time going to various science fiction readings in Manhattan.

I saw Barnes and Noble use a strategy called cannibalization, where they would open near existing bookstores and offer deep discounts. Barnes and Noble did not have to make a profit, they were subsidized by the other parts of the chains so they could run for several years undercutting local business. This closed Seventh Avenue Books in Park Slope Brooklyn. It also forced Nkiru Books to become Nkiru Center for Education and Culture, a nonprofit center not focused on making money, but providing cultural activities in Park Slope.

I am not regretful that the Strand Bookstore modernized and forced the Astor Place Barnes and Nobles out of business in Manhattan. If you go into Strand Bookstore, you will notice, they do not have the same kind of stock in science fiction and graphic novels as the Forbidden Planet store down the street. It shows they are willing to work with other local businesses. I am glad that the independents are becoming more organized.

I have always been interested in publishing and bookstores. For a while, I considered a dream of opening a bookstore but realized after talking to the owners of a few small shops, that the big box stores were destroying local stores, there was not much money in owning a bookstore, and the industry was consolidating. There was not much hope in this. Working as a librarian was a better career choice.

For me this is not just about bookstores, it is about other things as well. I buy from local businesses. The local fruit stand is cheaper and has better produce than the supermarket. The local deli has people you can talk to. The local diner is a place where you know the owner. It is not impersonal like fast food chains. We know the local bike shop owner. Shop locally it keeps community together. It is also quite often cheaper. Using local banks puts money back into the community. They are the ones most likely to fund local businesses.

This is a link to a letter from the president of the American Booksellers Association, urging President Obama to help small businesses:

Miscellaneous Tidbits

While I was looking around the web, I took a look at a large independent bookstore, Tattered Cover. They have a very extensive list of literary awards. Here it is:

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