Midwinter, yet not so bleak

It comes as a great relief to find that things seem to be “looking up” in the world of books.  According to Writer’s Digest‘s “2010: The Year in Review,” printed in their Writer’s Yearbook 2011, the publishing industry is slowly emerging from its lengthy slump, much as our economy is clumsily climbing out of its recession.  It’s not surprise  that the two would go hand in hand, but I find it comforting to know that people are spending at least some of their new-found pocket change on books and other media.  The article’s author, Linda Formichelli, touches on printed books, magazines, and the impact of going digital, remaining realistically optimistic as she does so.  While acknowledging  uneven and unreliable gains within the publishing industry, she maintains an upbeat attitude, particularly regarding the potential of the burgeoning digital age:  “We’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out, but we’ve got our rose-colored glasses at the ready.”

Further hope can be found in a story by Lynn Neary on the survival of the independent bookstore, which aired on NPR’s Morning Edition today.  I have often decried the emergence of the e-book as damning to both those who publish and sell the printed word; however, Neary’s piece makes a convincing argument that this does not have to be the case.  Indeed, she claims that it is the giant chains that are suffering most in their attempts to keep up with online retailers, namely Amazon, and suggests that “…new technologies may provide independent bookstores with a lifeline.”

One such lifeline for bookstores should come with the recent launch of Google E-Books, which finally allows independents to sell e-books through their own websites and get in on the digital revolution.  Another advantage of Google E-Books is that, with the exception of the Kindle, its books can be used on virtually all media readers, including smart phones, tablets, e-readers, and computers.

Now, it was not entirely clear to me from the article how independents were at an advantage over the chains on the technological front.  Barnes & Noble already has its own e-book entity and reader, the Nook, and Borders sells a number of different  readers and sources its books from Kobo, Inc. (“Google Set to Launch E-Book Venture,” WSJ). It seems to me that rather than placing independent bookstores at an advantage, Google’s belated entry into the realm of e-books serves to level the playing field by allowing independents to participate and create a more competitive e-book market.  And, let’s face it, a little competition is good for everyone, whether author, publisher, seller, or consumer.  Unless you are Amazon, that is, and prefer a model closer to a monopoly.  Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in San Francisco, is quoted in the NPR story and sums up Amazon’s exclusivity up wonderfully:

‘”I think that it’s possible that the Kindle could turn into the Betamax,’ she says. ‘That’s my nasty wish, because they won’t share with other people.'”

No, from what I can suss out of Neary’s piece, it is the notion of “shopping local” and having access to a knowledgeable staff that gives smaller booksellers an edge. This is old hat, in my opinion, and the reason the independent bookshop has survived online retailers, chains, and warehouses to this day. Hopefully it will be enough to keep them afloat in this digital surge because that connection within a community is what gives it vitality, its raison d’etre.

My final note before I end this post is to point you toward the book Words and Money by longtime publisher Andre Schiffrin. In its pages he condemns the rise of large publishing conglomerations and suggests that independent publishers and presses might be saved via state subsides in order “to preserve the kind of diverse and independent culture we know we need” (The Irish Times).  I have yet to read it, as it was only brought to my attention this morning; however, it sounds as if it may offer a very interesting perspective on the industry as a whole.

So, keep your heads and your hopes up as the year draws to a close and remember your local businesses during this holiday season.

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