Last Saturday I went to Con*Cept, a Montreal Sci-fi & Fantasy convention, where I attended a session on “The Death of Bookstores”. Most of the panelists were authors, one of whom had also worked as an editor and journalist. (Program says they were: Rob St. Martin, Mark Shainblum, Karen Dales and Cathy Palmer-Lister who was also the con chair).
So, I sat there and didn’t say anything though I was getting quite agitated. Naturally the conversation didn’t stick to just bookstores but wandered into the nature of books, publishing and authorship.
Okay, so when it comes to books, of course people who attend cons are, generally, more literate and are often voracious readers; these people tend to tie an emotional response to books (the physical form, not the content). It’s common to hear lots of people talking about the tactile and sensual experience of books, the smell, the touch, etc. This of course came up because of the discussion on if e-books are one reason that traditional bookstores may be dying out.
As for me, when I hear people talk about their book collections, I cringe. Most of this is because there are slight hoarding tendencies in my family so I try really, really hard not to assign emotions or meaning to things (whether books, knick-knacks, gadgets, or what-have-you) and I try not to have too much stuff in general. (Seriously, have you watched the tv show Hoarders? It’s nasty.) Also, many of the people who talk about their book collections, refer to them as a way to preserve books for the future but really, after you’re dead you have no control over what happens to those books. I’ll leave it to libraries and archives to preserve the great (and not so great) works of literature for future generations.
Okay, so that’s my mini-rant about the Book People. I have little against paper books; I still buy them, but I just dislike when those emotional responses are used as the reasons why books will survive forever and e-books are bad.
Now as for bookstores, they may not survive, at least not as we know them, and I am okay with that. I agree browsability is greatly diminished in an online store or on an e-book app, but I hope that eventually software will be created that does this better and better. I think sites like LibraryThing, Shelfari and GoodReads are tools that might help fill this void.
So, why don’t I care about the bookstores? Almost all the (paper) books I buy, I buy based on some sort of personal connection; I go to an author reading, attend a convention or trade show where an author is selling or speaking, or interact online with an author. (Yes, I realize this too is an “emotional” response, but I don’t necessarily keep all the books I buy and I certainly don’t get attached to the things themselves.)
For instance, this past weekend I bought a book by Claude Lalumière – he sold it to me himself. Last year I went to Con*Cept to see Kelley Armstrong and get her autograph; I made sure to pick up another book by her. I saw Shani Mootoo do a reading at Word on the Street Kitchener last year, and then bought her book. I saw Cory Doctorow at WorldCon last year & he replied to a tweet I sent; I later bought Little Brother. I went to another reading that featured three authors, bought two books including Kathleen Winter‘s boYs. I went to Chapters this summer to see Robert J. Sawyer and bought a couple more of his titles. Yes these last two occurred in bookstores, but I still say bookstores may not exist, but there still will be venues for these events.
In particular, I think it’s time publishers started opening their own storefronts. Not on a mass level, just maybe one at their headquarters and an online store. Cut the middle man. The authors were mentioning how stores like Chapters have 120 days to return unsold books, and they can pretty much order what they want, so the publisher has the printer print those orders and then the author is screwed if they’re not sold.
To be continued in the next post where I’ll delve into print on demand, e-books, and niche markets…