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Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Battle for Independent Bookstores

The recent news of the impending demise of Shaman Drum Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan is distressing, indeed. One of the most enduring and well-known bookstores in the Midwest, the Shaman Drum closing signals the end of an era. It is ironic and hard to believe that this store in particular would succumb, considering it is located in the heart of the University of Michigan, one of the top universities in the world. The double irony, though (if there is such a thing) is that the store's relationship with the university is partly the reason why the store has to close. According to the owner in a February article, the store lost business because of the digital revolution (many of the university's course materials were now being offered online, erasing the need for traditional textbooks). The owner also cited the disturbing government report about the decline in literary readers in the United States. These two reasons, coupled with what has already happened to independent stores due to the major chains, makes for a perfect storm.

I would venture to add one more reason, but one that does not have to be inevitable for the stores that remain. As an independent publisher in business 10 years, I can attest to the poor treatment I and my colleagues have received from some independent stores. Perhaps it's the perception that "local" can't possibly be good enough to endorse, so stores spend thousands to bring in a famous author from somewhere else for programs. This situation is doubly difficult for local publishers carrying quality literary titles by multicultural authors. While of course no store can take on every book prospect that comes through their doors, there are many award-winning authors from within that store's very own community (with impeccable credentials and a a strong public following) who get ignored.

It is my belief that a connection with the surrounding community is important, and that is directly tied to supporting talented authors within that community. This support also stabilizes the local economy. Perhaps independent stores will be more open to this idea as we move into the future.

1 comment:

Sylvia McClain said...

I hope all the local authors out there are aware of what is going on with independent bookstores and like you voice their opinions. Like you, I think it is time for authors to stand together and give the big time distributors, univeristies and bookstores a piece of their minds.