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April 03, 2008


They are indeed. I hate to think of a day when the printed word isn't as prevalent as it is today and things are more electronic. I love the computer and spend a great deal of time there. What I don't love is the idea of reading my fiction, doing my pleasure reading, on something electronic. Call me old fashioned, but a great deal of the magic is in holding the object in your hand and turning the pages as the method by which you progress with the characters in the story.

I like the idea of not being able to return books as it may lead to hardcovers being available longer and maybe not have them go so quickly on a remainder shelf or completely disappear. The downside is that booksellers will most likely purchase fewer books and the smaller authors/publishers might find their books less prevalent on shelves.

As a bookseller, I can say with certainty that not being able to return books would be disastrous for a number of reasons. We're a small independent, and have a razor-thin margin as it is. We cannot afford to take gambles on new, unknown authors and titles if we know we will be "stuck" with them.

In a world where books are non-returnable, we would most likely buy fewer books of only known/reliable sellers, and we may even have to raise prices to cover the books which become dead weight. Both options will make us even less competitive with big, corporate booksellers than we already are -I really hope this isn't the trend of the future.

Comic shops have been dealing with that issue for years and it does lead to exactly what Charlotte mentions. Since Diamond has a monopoly on distributing comics to stores they set the rules, and the rules for years is that most comics cannot be returned. That means that shops have to take huge risks on ordering in order to not get stuck with a large stock of merchandise that won't sell. On the flip side if they gamble wrong and don't order enough then they risk losing the business of customers who frequently come in to find that books they want are unavailable.

I can see the same thing happening to bookstores. I know I would be less likely to continue frequenting a place that only stocks the major sellers. If I cannot go into a store and find what I want I am more likely to go ahead and use an option like to purchase books. And I have to say that I prefer the experience of buying in a store. I too hope this isn't the wave of the future as much as I hope that ebooks and the kindle don't replace the joy of holding a book in one's hand.

I wonder if this might push more independent booksellers to find increasingly creative ways to use the internet? An independent shop depends on the limits of the local market -- but the internet allows smaller marginal shops to reach a national and even international market. After all, what does someone do if they can't find what they want in their local shop? I for one, search for it online and buy it where ever I can find it.

The internet has allowed what economists call "the long tail" -- the slower end of the sales slope to flourish because it provides a way to promote a niche market of in this case books or comics to a larger number of people.

The internet is tricky territory for a small shop. I don't think there is anything an independent could offer that Amazon does not, unfortunately. We could never have the same depth of stock or prices. We simply don't have that kind of capital. I'm not sure there are enough "moral buyers" who would spend more for the same product just to support us - books and comics are not, after all, an artisan good. Whether you get a book from us or Amazon, it will be the same book.

What we do have going for us are knowledgeable staff with decades of experience with books, and the ability to let a customer browse the idiosyncrasies of our unique space and selection. I don't think either of those things translates well onto the internet.

The nature of the book/comic shop, I think, is anachronistic. What separates one store from the next isn't the product, it's the community surrounding the product. It's the advice you get and the readings you might see. It's the conversations you can have with the owners. I like to think that good booksellers aren't "retailers". They deal in a more sophisticated intellectual product that benefits from personal knowledge and long-standing customer ties. They match books to people and have textured understandings of the book's innards. All we have to offer a customer that Amazon doesn't is this *life*.

No doubt all "products" benefit from this kind of knowledge. I prefer to buy my bread from a baker and my yarn from a yarn store. :) But people in general still resist buying food online - books, on the other hand, are the biggest-selling internet commodity. So I worry a little more about our future.

Apologies for becoming long-winded. :)

Authors get fewer royalties from amazon sales as these are bought in bulk and at a deep discount. And, of course, we get nothing from secondhand sales on the same site. Both authors and small bookstores continue to lose out to giant chains who buy in bulk at deep discount and return books en masse, often covered in food and coffee stains. Indeed, the publishers and the authors provide the lure through which the chains sell food and coffee! (Should we not get a percentage of these sales?) Meanwhile the publishing industry itself grows more rapacious by the year, ever dreaming up new ways to reduce what authors earn, e.g. small print runs at half-royalty rate. To stay in this business you've got to be at least one of the following: mad as a hatter, independently wealthy, otherwise employed, driven to write, a masochist, a dreamer, a hopeless idealist.

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About this blog

  • The Journal of Mythic Arts was a pioneering online magazine dedicated to Mythic Arts: literary, visual, and performance arts inspired by myth, folklore, and fairy tales. Published by The Endicott Studio, co-edited by Terri Windling & Midori Snyder, JoMA ran from 1997 to 2008.

    This blog was active from 2006 - 2008, and is kept online as an archive only. Please note that no new material has been posted since 2008, and links have not been updated.

    For more recent discussions of Mythic Arts, fantasy literature, and related topics, visit Terri Windling's Myth & Moor and Midori Snyder's Into the Labyrinth.

Where you'll find us now

  • Visit The Endicott Studio website here, and our news blog here.

    Visit Midori Snyder's blog, "In the Labyrinth," here.

    Visit Terri Windling's Studio here.