Tag Archives: bookstore closings

CRIME SCENE

CRIME SCENE

Another Barnes & Noble Becomes a Victim of the Traditional Publishing Sickness

Okay, so I know this has been going on for quite a while now, these bookstore closings, but what made this one worse was the fact that this Barnes & Noble happened to be MY Barnes & Noble, located in MY neighborhood, and I’d been running a drop-in writers’ group there for years.

The sign on the front door “We’re Closing” made us all  feel sick inside.  We’d already been through this once before. We’d met at another Barnes & Noble which had also succumbed. Now there are no Barnes & Nobles to run to!

So we’re meeting in a noisy coffee shop where the waitress never fails to come sailing over with a coffee pot held dangerously high  — “Anybody for a refill?” — just when somebody is reading the “big reveal” part of their story.

It feels so much better talking together about writing and reading one’s writing aloud when you are surrounded by thousands of books.  On TV I heard an indie publisher interviewed who said of the 100 bookstores that used to stock his publications, 70 were now out of business, meaning he had to go look for a job. That is sickening.

I don’t really understand all the (no-doubt) sleazy economics behind the traditional publishing sickness, but I do know that I just hate it when a bookstore closes.  It’s not only sickening. It’s a crime.

(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT, author of The Therapist Writer (Timberlake Press, 2012)

A Panel of One: Dan Poynter Updates Writers on Latest Publishing Changes & Opportunities

Self-Publishing Guru, Dan Poynter, Updates a Southern California Writers Group on the Latest Publishing Industry Changes -- Photo: Sylvia Cary

Whether you’re a therapist writer or any other kind of writer, you know it’s important to  keep up with what’s going on in the ever-changing publishing industry.  Since we can’t all be at every writing-related event in our area, I thought I’d share some things I learned at the latest meeting of IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California) in my own area.

Now usually on the last Monday night of the month, IWOSC presents a panel of four to six experts on topics related to writing and publishing, but this time things were different. This time it was a panel of only one — that one being Dan Poynter, a man who probably knows more about the publishing game than anyone else on earth. He flies 6000 miles a week, speaking to book-writing hopefuls and conversing with publishing experts in every nook and cranny of the globe. He spends 40% of his time in the air, at airports, and in other countries. It’s no wonder that whenever he opens his mouth to speak about publishing, writers listen.

Poynter opened his talk with a catchy little definition of self-publishing that you might want to put up on your fridge to inspire you:  “Self-publishing, when you’re doing it right, is when your passion center meets your profit center.”

But publishing wasn’t originally Dan Poynter’s primary passion. Sky-diving was his first love. One day in 1972 somebody took him for his first sky dive “and I was hooked,” he says. If he hadn’t been taken on that jaunt, he never would have known how much he liked it — and he might never have ended up in the publishing field. Today, he advises parents to “do something new every weekend with your kids; open them up to different kinds of experiences and eventually they’ll find something they want to pursue.”

After Poynter got into sky-diving (including a  jump into the north pole), he realized that there were no parachute manuals. He wrote one, became a publisher, published it and sold it through parachute schools, parachute shops, parachute catalogs, and parachute magazines — but not through bookstores. Even back then he realized, “Sell to your own tribe. You have to go where your audience hangs out.” Marketing a book was harder in those days.  “Today, because of the Internet and search engines, we can find our customers and our customers can find us.”

In 1973, Poynter discovered hang gliding. He fell in love again. And again, when he realized that there were no manuals on the subject, he spent four months researching it and came out with the first book on hang gliding. The book took off. “It was the right book at the right time, just when everybody was crazy about hang gliding and there were articles on it in every magazine.” He marketed this book the same way he’d marketed his parachuting book — he sold them in hang gliding stores, hang gliding schools, hang gliding magazines and hang gliding catalogs. “Your book has to be the first one,” he says. “If you have the second book you’re out of luck.” Initially, when he left copies in stores on consignment, management was skeptical. Then, when the books sold out, he started to get calls for more: “You have to show them there’s a market.”  Also, thanks to his naïveté at the time, he sent a copy of his hang-gliding book to the Library Journal and asked them to review it.  He had no idea that getting a book reviewed in the Library Journal is a feat the equivalent of parachuting into the North Pole. But the Library Journal actually did review the book and as a result of that review he sold copies to 1200 libraries.

By 1974 Poynter had earned enough money to move back to California from a colder clime (he’d come to hate cold) to a big house on a hill in Santa Barbara. He has since authored over one hundred additional books.

Publishing is changing so fast it’s hard to keep up. The large publishers are downsizing, the traditional brick and mortar stores are going out of business, readers have fallen in love with ebooks, “and we’ve been losing three independent bookstores a week for the last twenty years.” Publishing industry professionals who are still resisting all these changes are, in Poynter’s words,  “in denial,” And the changes are having a huge impact on every facet of book publishing — literary agents,  distributors, book printers, book reviewers — just about everyone that the industry touches. Even the area of “foreign rights” is changing. Someday, authors will have their books translated into other languages on their own and sell them on Amazon or on their own Web sites. “Tolerate books stores, but don’t pursue them,” Poynter says. “Bookstores are lousy places to sell books. New York publishing still thinks it’s all about bookstores, but they’re wrong. The winners are going to be authors and small publishers who go with the flow and adapt to what’s inevitable and embrace the changes. In the past, everyone followed the Big Six publishing conglomerates. Now, the Big Six are following us!”

Poynter predicts that the abandonment of the “New York” publishers and gatekeepers will continue, and magazines (and along with them book review space) will continue to disappear. “1989 was the peak year for the magazine industry. Magazines were thick with ads. Now they’re getting skinnier and skinnier. Look at Newsweek. It’s losing millions. Most newspapers will disappear in five years. The only four likely to survive are the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Most book reviews will be done online by book bloggers.”

While these changes are opening up all kinds of exciting opportunities for writers, Poynter warns that writers also need to be wary of scammers. “Avoid Vanity presses. Do your due diligence. And if you are about to do business with a company, first go online and type in Google + the name of the company + scam (or rip-off) and see what comes up.

Poynter ended his presentation with a reminder: “87% of people don’t like their job. One million people call in sick every day. But we, as authors and publishers, are respected and have a passion for what we do. There will be a growing need for entertainment (fiction) and information (non-fiction)…” – and that means work we love! So for the hundreds of  writers, publishers and guests sitting in the audience listening to this most impressive “panel of one,” the future is looking pretty good.

Shape-Shifting Small Bookstores

The X-Factors of Small Bookstore Survival

A Small Bookshop in Amsterdam - Photo Taken by MorBCN's Photostream via Flickr from Yahoo!

Not being a bookstore insider, I get my information about what’s going on with bookstores the way many of us do – by reading about them or taking myself on little “class trips.” A few weeks ago I went to witness the closing of my local Borders store, took a few photos and blogged about it. Since then I’ve been tracking online articles about small bookstore closings — one after another, I’m sad to say. According to one of my favorite news sources for such things (www.TheBookseller.com), there have been 2000 independent bookstore closings in Britain since 2005, including Notting Hill – The Travel Bookshop, made famous by the 1999 movie starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. Efforts to save Notting Hill, led by celebs, have apparently failed. This story is being repeated globally as bookstores (many with a resident cat) are closing — in Canada, Japan, Australia, the U.S. and other places. Three famous independents here in Los Angeles that have met this fate are Dutton’s Bookstore, The Mystery Bookstore and the Bodhi Tree, closing this Christmas.

Predictions

If you love bookstores (and I do), then the predictions that accompany these store closings are depressing.  Dan Poynter, the self-publishing guru who travels around the world a number of times each year and has his finger on the pulse of publishing, predicts that within a few years, all publishing will be online. John Biggs, a blogger and gadget geek for TechCrunch, is quoted as saying, “I love books but they’re not going to make it past this decade…The time to pivot is now and it’s clearly already happening.” In a February 2011 article in USA Today called “Is There Hope for Small Bookstores in the Digital Age?” reporter Bob Minzesheimer forecasts that shelf space for print books will decline 50% in next 5 years and 90% in 10 years. Another article, “The End of Bookshops,” predicts that bookshops will be “wiped out in only five years.”  So it’s looking more and more as though somewhere between 2011 and 2021, your local Barnes & Noble may consist of nothing more than a café with an espresso coffee machine sitting next to an Espresso Book Machine (EBMs can print a book from a digital file in just minutes) with digital access to millions of books (if you still insist on paper), including the Encyclopedia Britannica which has also gone digital.

The Comfort of Community

Each bookstore closing triggers deep emotional reactions from staff and patrons, many describing themselves as “heartbroken,” “distraught,”  “crestfallen,” or “angry” over having their gathering places wrenched away from them. Earlier this year 200 upset customers picketed to protest the closing of a Barnes & Noble store in Encino, California. I ran a writers’ group there and we lost our home, then settled elsewhere, and now that’s up in the air.

It’s not that any of these people are being denied access to books. They’re being denied access to the human connection and the comfort of community they’ve become used to, and they’re also being denied access to potential dreams hidden away in all those books, yet to be discovered. Haven’t you ever bought a book just to have it? Maybe not even to read right away, but because you sense there’s something in it you might need to know someday? How will one stumble across such precious volumes if there are no more bookstores? The co-owner of one U.S. bookstore, which has no immediate plans to shut down, was quoted in one of the articles I read as saying, “There are customers who would start crying if we said we were closing. People are hungry for human contact, and so when we create a place where like-minded individuals can gather, it’s going to work.”

Surviving Bookstores Shape-Shifting

Before you get too discouraged, consider this: Yes, thousands of small bookstores have gone out of business, but thousands more have survived.  Not only that, but new ones are actually being opened. What’s going on? Don’t they read the papers?  Are they in massive denial? But I saw this with my own eyes when I went to the Flintridge/La Canada (California) Bookstore and Coffeehouse to see their Espresso Book Machine (see my July 31st blog about this great gizmo) and learned that the store had just been rebuild and expanded (after a truck had driven through it!). I remember thinking, “How refreshing! A new bookstore.”

My Own "Small Bookshop" of Writing Books

A booksellers meeting this year in Washington, D.C. (again, according to articles I’ve been reading) drew 500 people, 25 of them considering opening new bookstores, which is significant. The American Booksellers Association reports that after membership slid from 4000 down to 1750, it’s creeping up again and is now at 1800. Bookstore survivors are brainstorming like mad, trying to figure out the best things to do to stay in business.

Small Bookstore “To Do” List

Here’s part of an evolving “To Do” list for small bookstores looking to thrive:  take advantage of the mega bookstore closings * hook in to the growing “support local businesses” movement * make sure book-buying is a pleasant experience * hold events, groups, classes, talks * let the supermarkets use their floor space to stock the best-sellers and magazines * stick to unique books and niche topics * sell both used and new books * partner with local POD authors and carry some of their books * market locally * have a welcoming café * open up later and stay open late * put your entire inventory online * market via social media * offer services that customers can’t get elsewhere * sell some gifts and toys, but don’t become a gift store or toy store that sells books * sell personalized children’s books * do a radio pod cast with authors and an audience *  have volunteer “interns” to assist and learn about the book business * have free writing classes to help grow new authors * and, finally, smile and stock really great books!

The Mystery of Survival

I don’t know if the dire predictions about the death of bookstores will actually come to pass, but what I do know from being a psychotherapist for twenty-five years is that when it comes to “recovery,” there are mysterious x-factors in the mix that we can’t explain. So don’t count the bookstores out yet.

Copyright Sylvia Cary 2011

Borders, I Hardly Knew Ye

The Last Days of a Borders Bookstore

Like most writers, I love bookstores and hate seeing one close.  When there were plenty of them, I was picky.  For example, I was always more of a Barnes & Noble gal than a Borders gal because Barnes & Noble felt cozier — even after one local store removed their comfy armchairs and another started chaining their wooden armchairs together so you couldn’t move them off into a corner to read.  (Truly annoying!)  Still, I go back.

So even though Borders has only ranked #2 in my book (no pun intended), I’m  sorry to see it go bust.  As we all know, bookstores all over the world have been closing.  Sign of the digital times.  So last night, knowing that my local Woodland Hills, California Borders (one of the last 400 to get the ax)  would be closing in two days, I decided to go there to say goodbye.  I went with a little guilt in my heart — perhaps I never gave Borders a chance. Perhaps I should have spent more time in their coffee shop with my laptop. After all, unlike Barnes & Noble, they’d actually kept their comfy arms chairs for readers to sit in.  Had I been too harsh in judging Borders?

Looking for "Hot" Deals at the Borders Funeral

I also went there expecting some hot deals — like 75% off. As I walked in past hundreds of garish red, black and yellow “Going out of Business” and “Everything Must Go” signs, I heard a woman muttering to herself as she looked through the merchandise, “It’s so sad.”  I was sad, too — there were no hot deals!  Twenty to thirty percent off in this economy, and in this “last gasp” situation, is not a “hot” deal. That’s an everyday deal. I know this is like complaining about the food at a funeral reception — but I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth Borders expected to get rid of all that stuff (and there was a LOT of stuff) in just two days at only 20% to 30% off.  It made no fiscal sense — which in turn made me think that this might all tie in to Border’s larger financial problems — a certain disconnect with the surrounding realities perhaps?  But who knows? It’s not my area of expertise.  All I know is I said my goodbyes quickly, took a few pictures for this blog, and left without buying a thing.

I still love bookstores.  I’ll still grieve whenever one closes. But the new publishing realities (e-books, self-publishing, print-on-demand, becoming your own publishing company, online book marketing and even the Espresso Book Machine — see my July 31st post) have been knocking on the door for years and it’s time to answer the knock and learn how to love,  take advantage of, and profit from them — even if it means we have to buy our very own comfy arm chair to sit down in and read.