EXTRA ETHER: Bookstore Bake Sale

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Why do all the ladies of my parish bake cupcakes once a month and sell them to each other?

That line, from John Updike’s The Centaur, came back into my preacher’s kid head as I read a post by one of my fellow contributors to Writer Unboxed.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Sarah Callender

The writer Sarah Callender (good hat) was coming awfully clean. She wrote:

I have bought many, many books on Amazon. Please know my head is low and my cheeks are red as I admit this to you.

This, as a confessional, sits well beside such soul-searing lines as I used to hear congregations belt out in chancel-flattening unison:

We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

Told you I was a minister’s son. That’s actually from the Book of Common Prayer. Episcopalian, not Methodist. I’d say Daddy was catholic in these matters, but that confuses people who don’t know Catholic from catholic.

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Let’s try it. Will you take the beat from me?

We have taken advantage of free shipping with Amazon Prime; we have wallowed in history’s best customer service and algorithmically low-balled prices, while partaking of the luscious fruit of fabulous searchability and nearly instant downloads onto our Kindles; we have ordered those things we didn’t need instead of the portable prayer-kneelers we should have been paying $3.99 to have shipped overnight, same-day availability in certain areas.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave MorrisCallender’s post, headlined Imagine Saving a Life: An Indie Bookstore Pledge, is inspired, it seems, by a near-missionary zeal for drawing a line between rightful behavior and patronage of Amazon.

She declares her willingness to “do my part to save the lives of independent bookstores.” And, in what I believe is a completely genuine statement of hope, she wants us all to do the same.

So will you, too, make a pledge to buy one book per month from an indie bookstore? AND will you convince someone else to do the same? If you do that, and if your friends convince their family and friends to do the same, and so on and so on, we will pump enough life into the independent bookstores that are the lifeblood of our community.

Callender’s article was coming out just as we published Writing on the Ether with Peter Turner’s post-Kepler’s 2020 symposium.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Peter Turner

Turner headlined his post The Future of the End of Bookstores. In it, this longtime staunch ally of bookstores wrote of how he’s “discouraged, depressed actually, by the lack of innovative thinking” among bookstore people.

Immediately, Turner had blow-darted the Amazon-as-bogeyman approach so many well-intentioned bookstore lovers, like Callender, seem to think is correct.


The general attitude among indie booksellers is to do whatever they can to discourage their customers from buying e-books from Amazon.

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And here was Callender:

I understood that in getting lazy and cheap in my book buying, I had forgotten the magic of a bookstore. My children had forgotten it too. Shame on me.

Another thing ministers’ kids can spot around a corner: guilt.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave MorrisGuilt is one slippery weapon in the arsenal of the righteous. It tends to blow up in the faces of the faithful. Scriptural soot. All over the place. Here is Skipper Hammond, who left a comment on Callender’s Writer Unboxed post:

Dare I say (whisper)? Don’t guilt trip me. I’m too ornery to take a pledge. Too blind to read books that don’t have enlargeable type. Too crowded in my little house to build any more bookshelves. Too poor to support every worthy cause. I never bought from Amazon until my daughter gave me a Kindle and I look forward to the day when I can buy books for it at an independent bookstore. Until then, Don’t guilt trip me.

Callender handled this comment graciously:

Yes, ma’am! Sorry to offend. I, too, look forward to the day when ebooks are available at indie bookstores. I hope that day’s not too far in the future. The enlargeable font really is a blessing!

And most folks commenting on Callender’s post dutifully promised to buy their one book per month from an independent bookstore.

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I don’t doubt that Callender does mean well. She offers three reasons she feels bookstores’ “lives,” as she puts it, are worth “saving,” and she fleshes out each of these points:

  1. Bookstores facilitate a more connected community.
  2. Bookstores add personality and color to a community.
  3. Bookstores are incubators (of creative effort and of readers)

Daddy might have liked that list, actually. Sounds like several of the ways he always enjoyed describing the place of a good church in the community.

But gosh. How simplistic it is to speak in these blandishments. Just take the first point, the “more connected community.” Good-hearted Callender writes cheerily:

Bookstores do much more than sell books. These days they have to.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Victoria Noe

The other side of that? Victoria Noe, a businesswoman and writer, in a Facebook conversation with several of us reflects the way doing “much more than sell books” can actually be a sign of a business that’s erring and straying from its way:

It’s not enough to say “indie bookstores/brick & mortar stores” should survive. Every business ultimately has to fill a need in order to survive. The best ones create a new need in their customers.

How many of these stores have created a new need as the world changed and the digital dynamic picked up the pace around us?


Turner also wrote of the bookstores-doing-many-things tactic when he came away from the ambitious Kepler’s program in California. He noticed that the more the Kepler’s plan widens to include activities, the narrower grows that aisle of books. At Kepler’s, the ideas include:

  • More events (in store, for a fee)
  • More non-book items
  • More serving of self-published authors for a fee via the Espresso Book Machine or some other POD solution

Can the character — these stores’ community-focusing personalities — possibly prevail as their inventories and events swerve away from the nostalgic images many of us recall from our pre-digital childhoods? Turner:

That doesn’t look much like a bookstore to me.


Noe points out that the in-store cafés, often thought to be such a smart move for bookstores, aren’t necessarily the boon they appear. In many cases, café patrons will spend a day nursing a cup or two of coffee and never look at the bookstore shelves, never buy a book. In fact, they may be there with their laptops. Ordering from Our Sister Church in Seattle.

Instead of trying to become so many things to so many people, Turner asked, why not consider aligning a bookstore’s original concept (selling books) with the fact of what’s happening to the industry?

Why can’t indie booksellers acknowledge Kindle’s market dominance and serve its customers with easy ordering in-store and via indie bookstore websites, securing an affiliate fee (from Amazon)?

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And from the UK, as if in answer to Turner, Philip Jones at TheFutureBook writes up A bundling experiment called “Clonefiles.” It’s being run at an independent bookshop called Mostly Books by Osprey’s Angry Robot imprint. Jones writes:

The scheme offered the digital version of Angry Robot novels free to customers when they bought the physical paperback. Two weeks later Osprey chief executive Rebecca Smart told The Bookseller, that the initiative had trebled sales of the publisher’s titles at the trial store. The scheme has been supported in-store with a window display and signs explaining how it works. There is now an intention to roll it out in other independent bookshops.


Might there be a business model to explore there? As opposed to “everybody buy a book a month?”

What’s more, there are instances of sheer novelty close at hand. Sometimes these can sustain a special bookstore, certainly. John Williams wrote the Times’ coverage of author Larry McMurtry’s auction of some 300,000 books from his store Booked Up in Archer City, Texas, in Wanted, Dead or Alive: Used Books.

No, they can’t all be McMurtry’s store. But the time is coming, faithful Ethernaut, when we may have to realize that only some of these businesses can survive. The upheaval is deep and riven with lengthening shadows.

And wherever we may look for solutions, the problem is not Amazon.

I’ll say it again for you: The problem is not Amazon.

Which is why it’s such a misguided move to try to drive a wedge between that mammoth retailing powerhouse and its committed, loyal customers.

As big as it is Amazon is, the Internet it plies so well?–is a much bigger, wider sea.

And the Net’s entry into our lives, our workplaces, our homes, our culture, our careers, and, yes, our reading, was going to happen whether Jeff Bezos ever sat down in Seattle. Amazon has leveraged the digital dynamic, not rained it down on our heads.


Look again. Those bracing memories we all love: the moment we were hand-sold  Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or a series of children’s books called The Little Colonel written in 1895 by Annie Fellows Johnston?–my grandmother showed me these on her best shelf. Those fond snapshots in our hearts are from a pre-digital era. Not from a pre-Amazon era.

Digital was coming, would come; has arrived; and it is the order of our day and our night, brothers and sisters. The deal is done; the dynamic is ours.

We order online because it’s smart, not because we’re shirking some duty to independent bookstores.

And has anyone asked a beleaguered independent bookstore owner just how many of us buying a book a month from her or him it would take to “save the life” of that emporium? Do we even know that a bunch of well-intentioned buddies writing “Me, too!” in comments on a blog post can keep a retail venture on its feet?


In the early 20th century, I could have told you that the horse and buggy ride offered fresh air, a gentle “clop clop” instead of engine noise, no gas fumes, and no flat tires. And I’d be right. But the Model T being driven into our culture by Ford would still have won out. And Ford was not the enemy.

Sometimes asking everybody to resist change by trying to preserve the familiar against the evolution of commercial forces is futile. You’re welcome to keep that buggy in the garage. But you’ll need a second garage for your Model T.

Salvation, as any PK can tell you, is never in the offering plate. It’s in finding a place, a purpose, a niche. And these bookstores have had a hard time doing that because — as with a lot of other businesses — it has simply become a lot more practical for consumers to patronize online retail outfits.

A knees-up round of guilt because we’re doing the sensible thing and shopping online may not help a single bookstore. With all respect for the sincere and heartwarming intentions of good colleagues like Callender, let’s not perpetuate digital resistance.


Let’s insist that stores we love find a way to thrive in our digital context. There are some fledgling efforts to get ebooks into retail outlets, you know, as with Clonefiles in the UK, and the Canadian beta Enthrill, now in more than 100 stores. As Laura Hazard Owen has reported at paidContent, Livrada is putting ebook gift cards into Target stores in the States.

Those schemes are early tries. We’ll need much more aggressive, integrated, practical, unsentimental thinking. Even anti-sentimental thinking.

Turner — in a Facebook conversation spurred by Ether host Jane Friedman with me, Noe, and Aaron Sikes — writes:

As a thought exercise, I would ask why it’s important for bookstores to survive? Really, specifically, why? The answer (assuming for a minute it’s not “No reason”) is the key to the emerging opportunity.


Because how long can you artificially prop up a bookstore with monthly sympathy buys?

Please. Not the cupcakes. This is way beyond bake sales.

Or am I out of my mind? Feel free to say so (you won’t be the first). What do you think? Can we possibly hope to freeze-dry our bookstores with fellowship suppers and buy-a-book campaigns? Until when? — after how many eons will we thaw them back out? Which do you choose? Are you a preservationist? Or an evolutionist?

Join us Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com for Writing on the Ether, presented this week by Ether sponsor Roz Morris and her novel, My Memories of a Future Life.

Main image: iStockphoto / angie_lemon

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Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.
Posted in Writing on the Ether.


  1. First of all: when do you sleep? If I see any “EXTRA extra Ethers,” I am holding an intervention.

    Second: really really lovely recap of thoughts on bookstores, and the reality-based approach about whose responsibility it is to “save” them. -Dan

    • Hey, Dan! First comment of the column, you early bird.

      As for sleep, I recognize the custom when I see it, but don’t understand it.

      And as for your kind comments, thanks. I hope I don’t sound like a bookstore refusenik. I’m not. But I’d like to see them saves by savvy and sanity, rather than sentiment.

      Then again, I’d like a lot of things. You know me. :)

  2. The difficult part came for me when I for years touted indie bookstores and spent lots of time and money in them. So when my first novel came out in 2009- traditionally published with a small press – I was so excited to have it sold in the indies! Those wonderful stores I so often talked about! I never even would mention Amazon, only “buy it from the indies!” — even when it went to the no 1 spot on Amazon kindle, I still shouted “buy it from the indies!” —

    until I began receiving notes from readers they couldn’t find it in indies and sometimes the stores would say they couldn’t order it because it was “POD” – POD is ofttimes the only way a small press publisher can survive -they simply can’t do large print runs as the “bigger guys can” — but there was this sniff of “oh, it must be self published if it’s POD” – which it was not — and of course, we all know now how that SP versus TP books is going now-a-days.

    I contacted, back then on the first book, many bookstores, visited them, did my best to make contact, and became involved with SIBA – my book was nominated for a SIBA award — still, many brick and mortars pretty much ignored my book. I understood it in a way: as they said, “It’s business-nothing personal!”- well, that goes both ways. Now I have to say “it’s business-nothing personal” when I tout my books doing so much better in ebook form. When my readers can so much more easily find my books on Kindle or Nook than in brick and mortar. It’s just business. Nothing Personal.

    There are a few wonderful indies out there who I support and they support me back – and I’m loyal to them. But generally, I just became frustrated and disillusioned with the whole process. Dang. Too bad. I had such high hopes and excitement in the beginning with that first book! Seeing the spine of it facing out from my beloved indies. Dang. I still love walking into an indie and shopping, trailing my hand along the spines – but often, as with my books, I don’t find my fellow author friends/colleagues books there, either. Dang again!

    • Kathryn,

      This is, actually, one of the best, clearest, and telling accounts of an author’s experience with independent bookstores I’ve read.

      Thank you for it, and thanks for bringing it to the Ether today, so many things you write here are clearly elements of what many authors are experiencing.

      In the final analysis, of course, the limitations of a physical-world bookstore vs. the virtual galaxy of online sales is crushing. And where this becomes most difficult is when authors (on whom every bookstore must depend, let’s face it) go as you do with spirit and hope into the independent bookstore community, only to find that “it’s just business” means that so many of those stores aren’t there for them — let’s say “can’t be there for them,” to relate the problem back to those limitations, and make it a factor not of bad humor but sheer logistical reality.

      This argues, then, for the “it’s just business” unsentimental approach I hope that more people can approach. We really must get to the point that we can make these appraisals, as you’ve had to make of where work sells and where it doesn’t without the baggage of warm-and-fuzzy guilt trips weighing us down. The digital dynamic is too disruptive to face with our hands tied behind guilt-ridden backsliding.

      All the best with it, and I share your disappointment — but I applaud your taking hold of the facts and moving forward to the benefit of your work.

      If you have time, your comment is one that might be helpful over on Sarah Callender’s Writer Unboxed column, too, the original piece that gave rise to this one. http://writerunboxed.com/2012/08/09/imagine-saving-a-life/

      Callender, as you can see from her own comment above, is a good sport and a clear-eyed bookstore-lover, and I think she’d agree that her readers over at WU might benefit from the counter-perspective of your own heartfelt experience.

      Thanks again!

  3. I consider myself an evolving preservationist! Can’t live without Amazon, that is where the bulk of my income comes from, but … can’t live without the indie bookstore.

    I love your idea about buying one book a month from the indie bookstore. Fantastic! We have a gem in our area http://www.booksandbooks.com/coralgables and my four-year-old loves to spend time sifting through shelves of books.

    They offer tons of books signings and classes. A great community connector.

    Great post.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Jim.

      And I must tell you it’s Sarah Callender’s idea, not mine, to buy a book a month for your store (glad you have a good one).

      By all means jump on that bandwagon if you think it might help. I, on the other hand, am arguing for a more business-model-related response to the crisis and hoping that sense trumps such bake-sale sentiment in this corner of the digital disruption.

      You may enjoy Sarah’s original post at Writer Unboxed more than mine, as a matter of fact. http://writerunboxed.com/2012/08/09/imagine-saving-a-life/

      Do check it out, and thanks again,

  4. Kudos again, Porter, for drawing the line where it needs to be drawn. I love a good bookstore, but the handwriting is on the wall: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”. As an old PK, you should know that one.

    • Ha!

      Well, Jim, I don’t know if God has decided that Belshazzar’s number is up, lol, but in many ways, the handwriting on those bookstore walls, yes, certainly seems to say that change has to happen — and (always with my “what do I know?” caveat in place) I’m convinced that the bake-sale response won’t get the walls whitewashed this time.

      We’ll see, however. Digital waits for no man, that’s for sure, and the ultimate outcome of things for our bookstores may not be that hard to discern in the near future. It’s all moving fast.

      Thanks for reading and responding, good to have you, as ever,

  5. Hi Porter. I absolutely agree that indie bookstores need to evolve. But I also think that being in a bookstore feels good. It’s that simple: bookstores make me feel good.

    Therefore, I want my kids to know what bookstores feel like; I want to have a place where I can go and see and smell and touch real books on shelves; I want to have a place where I can be around others who love the feel and smell and sight of books. Until bookstores find creative, tech-savvy ways to evolve, I am thrilled to bake cupcakes.
    And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

    • Sarah!

      You’re a wonderful sport!

      And I completely respect your love of bookstores — right down to your feeling good in them. I hope something of that came across in the piece. (Many a Sunday, Daddy and I had to agree to just respect each other’s skepticism, lol — the “one man’s religion is the next man’s belly laugh” approach.)

      Thanks for reading and commenting so graciously. I’d be thoroughly happy to have your kids know what bookstores feel like and to enjoy them throughout their lives — and their kids, too. I’m just of the opinion that we can best give that hope a chance by coming to terms with some business models and digital realities.

      But you know what? The cupcakes might just be the key. And I give you permission, if so, to laugh long and loud at me. I’ve been surprised too many times not to remain agnostic on the point. :)

      Amen, sister, and thanks again.

  6. I’m going to be shot for this, but I can’t use bookshops. I do my book buying after thorough research. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I want to find the widest possible range of books that fit what I’m looking for, and the widest possible range of critical evaluation. In a bookshop, I know I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg. So I use Library Thing, Goodreads and the reviews on Amazon and other review sites.
    I know reviewers are flawed, but I can look at a reviewer’s other utterances to learn whether they’re trustworthy, whether their tastes will correspond with mine, and whether they have read the book all the way through.
    If I go into a physical bookshop it all looks yummy but it’s smoke and mirrors. Beautiful covers, tantalising shout lines and reviews on the covers – most of which have been carefully tweaked by marketing departments to sell you the book, not evaluate it as a thorough reader would.
    Cupcakes, coffee and even the smell of print are not going to make up for the critical evaluation I can get by researching the book on line.

    • Hey, Roz – thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      I’m in the firing squad lineup with you, I’m afraid. While, as I’m telling Sarah (what a great sport) below, I completely respect her feelings about bookstores and will be most happy to see her kids grow up enjoying them, too, they’re honestly not the best source of books for me, either.

      I can’t tell you how many, many, many hours of time I wasted — and you hate to say that in any activity around books — but wasted, really, staggering up and down book aisles, trying to sort out whether this book or that book was what I needed and wanted. I find the act of physical shopping to be incredibly inefficient by comparison to what I can accomplish online in terms of research, speed, and breadth of availability (and I do a lot of discovering on the way, too) — let alone factoring in getting into the car (we do that here in my part of the States, lol — fuming up the environment to drive to and from the store, traipsing around the bins and shelves and tables…just not the practical solution, for me (I’ll speak for no other) when the Bezosian Answer is pulsing online, patiently waiting to parse tome and tub for me, with Look Inside and reviews and sheer range (!) of what’s out there.

      I like your interpretation of this (and I think it’s right) as a real reader’s approach to evaluating the material (instead of the marketing snags of front-table and departmentalized organization and covers-facing-out-vs.-spine considerations.

      Thanks for weighing in, and so honestly. I really don’t need to see a single bookstore close. I wish every one of them well. I just hope for a less sentimentalized approach to sustaining them from the community. And, for my own part, I probably won’t be in there, in any case, doing my own shopping.

      See you online. :)

      • This thread here reminds me of something else attached to the issue of bookstore survival/decline. The digital dynamic is hitting the marketplace where it counts, and it’s doing something I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. Roz’s approach to book buying is a perfect example.

        People don’t like to be pitched to. We just don’t like it. We mute commercials on TV, or we did back when we watched TV. Now we use Tivo and fast forward, or Hulu, Netflix, etc. If we want to find out what the latest best seller is and what it’s going for, we hit up Google for the information we need. Then we track down a shop nearby (maybe) or order it online (more likely) and wait for our new book to arrive. If it’s an e-book, we click the d/l button and wait a few minutes.

        That’s got to be my favorite consequence of the digital dynamic, that we are now more in control of the advertising we get exposed to, and actually have the freedom to ignore pretty much all of it if we choose. No amount of flashy in-store marketing is going to sway us away from that freedom and back into the shackles of 30-second rapid fire advertising every 10 minutes.

        • VERY insightful, Aaron, I agree with you completely on this (having just noted to Viki Noe that I’m an ATM guy — I’ll do almost anything to avoid going into a bank because I don’t want tellers “good morning” me and acting as if they’re performing acts of service to simply fulfill their tasks).

          We do have more control online of the bombardment from advertisement forces and as somebody who runs from “greeters” at stores, I’m all for it. :)


    • Roz, I go into a bookstore precisely because of the reasons you give for not going in. I am leery of online reviews. Too many people with an agenda – snark, self-promotion, whatever – are posting reviews and I don’t have the time or interest to research the motives of the reviewers.
      But when I go into Women & Children First in Chicago, I know that virtually every book on the shelves has been read by a staff member. Someone there can help me make an informed choice. Granted all reviews are subjective. But I’m more inclined to trust their staff.
      I can get e-books through them (IndieBound), though it’s not without its headaches and limitations. I would love buying a W&CF gift card for ebooks on their website, or purchasing a code to type into my computer and the ebook of my choice downloads.
      This particular store fills a clear niche: mostly feminist and LGBTQ titles, along with a great kids section; book signings and readings. Supportive of local authors (yes, even self-published ones). I’m a member of the store, so I get a discount on my purchases .In that sense, I’ve made an investment in their success, so obviously they’ve made a connection with me!
      BTW, I feel a whole lot better paying for that membership and getting the discount at W&CF than I do Barnes & Noble. My “member” card there has so many restrictions, it’s rendered almost useless. Their emails – 25% off anything this weekend, except (of course) Nooks and Nook books…” – are infuriating.
      I’m less inclined lately to blame the bookstores for not carrying the books I want. A lot of people I know are only publishing e-books; no print edition. And some of them are only publishing on Amazon. I have no plans to limit availability of my books, so I don’t quite understand their strategy. Plus, many authors aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to sell themselves to bookstores when it’s so much easier to just put their book up online and wait for the money to roll in.
      I’m crabby that way. Just ask Porter. 😉


      • I think Roz is trying to answer you, Viki, just FYI, but has had at least one try eaten up by Discus, which it does from time to time.

        Meanwhile, I’ll just ad that your experience with Women and Children Over the Side First sounds terrific, and congrats on it. Sounds to me as if a niche fulfillment is under way there, and that should, indeed, be the key for healthy survival in many instances, if not all.

        Personally, as I was saying in a response to Roz (I agree with her), I find the sheer time expenditure of having to move my body to a store — let alone dealing with the staff (I’m a committed ATM lover, lol) — to be prohibitive. In almost all shopping experiences, but especially in books, I like my transactions to be efficient, quick, impersonal, and affordable, so the online experience works for me.

        I have experienced the B&N card, though years ago when I was being told by people that I “needed” to go to bookstores for some never-named reason, and I’m sorry to hear that it hasn’t improved. The discounts were, as you describe, hard to catch and never on what I really needed. It’s still one reason I like Amazon, in that the Prime membership contributes to everything on the site, no requirement for me to declare my intentions or limit my business there.

        Thanks, as ever, for your input, both before and in this one. :)

    • Agreed Roz. Amazon has it all, and the books are delivered brand new (not fingered up), and I don’t have to drive anywhere to do it, and I can order it anywhere I am at.

      Frankly, I don’t understand the aversion to Amazon in the book publishing world. Or maybe I do. I think there is a panic as the new model is taking over the old model. Everyone knows that Amazon is the leader of the new model. Indie bookstores, they were wonderful, and the people who ran them were wonderful too, but let’s be pragmatic. Isn’t their time and place over? Too much of the old guard publishing industry is living behind the technological times. Which is why they are in trouble in the first place.

      • I’ll just jump in here, Sue, to say your willingness to just say “behind the times” is refreshing. We get a bit too PC in the industry to say that clearly at times, when really, that’s what’s at the bottom of all this. Thanks for reading and contributing to our lively bout of comments today!

    • Good choreography on that hand-raise, Diane, lol, and thanks for the vote of confidence from the pews.

      Seriously, let’s hope our stores pull through for those who find their environments and sales important and supportive. My money is on the non-sentimental approach, but we shall see. We already have Jim Hammett in a comment below checking on the numbering of the kingdom of Belshazzar, so things may get a bit apocalyptic before the get easier.

      Grab a coffee at the cafe while ye may. :)

  7. Nice post, Porter. (When do you have time for all this?)

    Instead of finding models to prop up the horse and buggy of book shops, digital models that capitalize on the “Ford and highway” of Amazon and indie authors are much more forward thinking and appealing.

  8. I thought this article in PW today about a SF/Fan bookstore initiative to develop a subscription model for reissuing out of print and hard to get books as ebooks was a good example of an indie bookstore trying a different model. http://bit.ly/SiwoY3

    Bundling ebooks with print books has been mentioned as a useful strategy for some time, so it is good to have Clonefiles now come out with as a concrete example that is successful. As Dean Wesley Smith has been arguing for some time, authors need to recognize that print isn’t going to go away and that they need to offer their books in both paper and print–see his post today http://bit.ly/PmZvcp

    At the same time, as you and others have pointed out, neither are ebooks, and publishers and indie bookstores would do better to address the reality that readers want to have both, but they don’t want to pay double the price for two copies of the same book–if that is the only alternative, more and more of them are going to go for the ebook.

    On a purely personal note, I have to agree with Kathryn Megendie, that as an indie author, even though I have my books in print and ebook form, my ebook sales are over 95% of my income, and the time and effort to get those print books into brick and mortar stores is just not efficient nor cost effective.

    M. Louisa Locke

    • Hi there, and thanks for your comment!

      I’m impressed, as with Kathryn, on your figures about ebook sales being so much more lucrative (and practical to pursue in terms of time and effort). I’m always sorry when folks seem to interpret the slightest enthusiasm for ebooks as a condemnation of print. I’m very happy for print and ebooks to co-exist, as you are — but I appreciate the reality of what your figures show you. And isn’t it interesting that you and I would likely be pinned as anti-print? (One commenter today already has tried that one on me.)

      I did drop a “cameo tweet” into the piece today on the science fiction store opening in New York (Singularity & Co.), and I certainly wish them well. It is a tricky thing comparing what might work in the New York area market and what might work elsewhere in the country, but I’m glad to see a newly launched idea and effort anywhere it turns up, aren’t you?

      Anything but those cupcakes. Thanks again!

  9. You’re approaching the question as a monotheist who believes in One
    Right Way For Everyone (or else). No thanks. I’m a pantheist and pay
    homage to many and all. Yes, e-books are here to stay, but printed
    books will still be around too. Wait till the grid goes down, all those
    inevitably upgrade, or the Big-A decides to wipe your file. Printed
    books will always be there for you, faithful and loyal, beautifully
    illuminated with design and art. I may buy trashy novels as e-books,
    sure, but anything I want to retain I get on hard copy.

    Yes, we’re shopping more online — I do too, but Amazon is my dead last
    choice. Abebooks, Alibris, Powells, Copperfields, verily I tell thee,
    there are many
    and they are good. Why are you thumping for Bezos alone? Jeffery does not sit at the right hand of your God, and sure as hell not with
    mine. Amazon is a leviathan that
    doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you, your community, or authors. Get out

    of line with their price dictates and they will drown you. Do you really want
    a predatory, undercutting corporate monopoly as the only church in town? Get off
    your knees and get a clue, Reverend Porter. Where would Jesus shop?

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, DeDanan.

      Not sure I’m able to follow your thoughts here, but I assure you that I’m just fine to see print flourish along with ebooks (nothing in my sermon today says otherwise, does it?).

      You’ll notice I point out that if Jeff Bezos weren’t the largest digital game in town, someone else would be — I’m delighted for you to do business with all the someone else’s you like. I focused on Amazon to the degree I did because Sarah Callender in her piece at Writer Unboxed (which prompted this write), specifically and entirely named Amazon as the problematic company. I am dancing with the one who brung me.

      Many in the industry are equally fixated on Amazon, of course, we can’t say that’s Callender’s issue alone, although it is not, as you call it, a “predatory, undercutting corporate monopoly.” (Callender didn’t say this either — that bit of scripture is all yours.)

      Once more, my thanks.

      • Sorry to be unclear — my fault for extending your metaphor (it was so irresistible). My point is that multiple options and choices create a healthy ecosystem in publishing and book-selling. I choose to support that. Amazon aims for industrial monoculture by clearcutting the forest. Your post makes it seem as if that’s just fine by you. If our goal is a vibrant living system, I think that is problematic, yes. Damn, another extended metaphor. But I trust you will understand, although not agree.

        BTW, how DO you find time to respond to every comment? Impressive!

  10. Having had a hand in stirring this pot, I’d love to add some fresh ingredients. Better yet, let’s re-frame the issue. It’s not about bookstores. It’s about what they uniquely provide, if anything; and what they do especially well, if anything. If there is a future to bookstores (and I don’t necessarily mean physical bookstores, as that’s a presumption), it’s in those two questions.

    • I’m with you, Peter, and I think we can reframe it many ways. However, the people marching out to buy a book a month — under the impression that they can “safe the life of a bookstore” by such means — DO see it as being about bookstores. One way or another, I think the conversation will shift eventually, automatically, as the digital dynamic takes its toll on the existing stores and more communities find themselves having to think beyond the bake sale strategies of yore. In the meantime, the debate is being held on several levels, some of them involving cupcakes. :)

  11. Copperfield’s Books, our local bookstore in Sonoma County, CA, has partnered with Google to purchase eBooks. copperfieldsbooks.com

    • Just dropped $35 there last week. GREAT store! Great selection, the whole bit. Adding eBooks should help them maintain, but I also think their survival is a function of their location. The community, I mean, seems more inclined to support brick-n-mortar because that’s the Healdsburg culture, for lack of a better word. People like going into boutiques and local shops around the square. It’s part of the experience of visiting a town like Healdsburg.

      And if you haven’t dined at Campo Fina yet, do yourself the favor :)

      • Very telling, yes, the surrounding community CAN make a huge difference if a store is aligned with what’s wanted and if that community’s personality gravitates to that “popping into little places” way of life. I’ve seen this a couple of times, too.

    • Sounds potentially like a good move. There has been a relatively recent series of changes in Google’s policies on its affiliates program which may have affected the store’s relationship with them. Might be worth asking about it next time you’re in. Thanks for reading and commenting, Marlene!

  12. Thanks for the mention, Porter. That was an enjoyable conversation, indeed, and your summation and expansion of it here was no less pleasant to read.

    The sci-fi writer in me wants bookstores to look like this in the future…a room full of kiosks, some tables and chairs, maybe a divan and a brass lamp or two for ambiance. A few shelves around the walls, but mostly for decoration. They’ve got archival copies of some classics behind glass. A few shelves for browsing up by the counter, new releases, some picture books for the kiddies to peruse.

    Customers come in, beeline it to a kiosk, and log in with their bank ID card, which contains all purchase history and identifying information (yes, we’re going the Minority Report route here). Kiosk screens light up with suggested purchases, a search bar option, browsing options as well. Customers select e-copies, hardcover orders to be shipped to home or gift addresses, or POD soft jacket. Each bookshop will have its own press in back, and you’ll get your book within an hour of your purchase. Popular titles, of course, will be ready to buy up front.

    It’s got plenty of holes, but that’s my idea of how to fix the problem of the vanishing bookstore. At least in rough draft form.

    • Hey, Aaron, thanks for reading and commenting, and for your earlier contributions to the thinking.

      All this sounds like a dandy design idea for a store. I think the only thing I’d say isn’t clear here is … why? As cool (and comprehensive, which I appreciate) as the ambiance is and as the capabilities are, what makes a customer need to leave the convenience of ordering by wifi in an instant what they need from their Kindle from wherever they are, instead of traveling to your finely appointed store?

      What we’re looking for — and I think this is what Peter Turner keeps pressing us for — is some reason to “come down off the Net.” Why exit cyberspace (when everything we need is in it) for a store? If that elemental partical could be determined, the secret would be in hand.


  13. “At Kepler’s, the ideas include:
    More events (in store, for a fee)More non-book itemsMore serving of self-published authors for a fee via the Espresso Book Machine or some other POD solution”Turning a bookstore into something else to save it? A venue? A coffee shop? something that no longer resembles a bookstore? I worked in a bookstore for more than 20 years and watched “sidelines” creep up to fill 25 % of the floor space. I have been there on the front lines. Last time I was in a public library it was packed. I waited 15 minutes to check out. There was nowhere to sit. I had to say “excuse me” in the stacks to get through. (This was last month on a Sunday afternoon)Imagine if a bookstore was getting that kind of business. People love to read. They just can’t afford the price of a paper book. If all books were $2.99 then bookstores would be full again. Just sayin’

    • Good points, Annemarie, thanks for reading and for letting me hear from you. The key may be getting the inventory in the bookstores to match the low pricing of those ebooks people CAN afford, huh?

  14. I view these debates with some envy, because I live in a tiny little town that doesn’t have a bookstore. The nearest bookstore to me is 40 miles away, a small chain store. The nearest indie would probably be about 70 miles from me in a city I travel to maybe once or twice per year. But I listen to and read the debates hungrily because I love imagining what it would be like to have a great indie bookstore. (The closest thing we had when I was a kid was a hotel that had a little bookshelf of Harlequins. You’d bring your old romance novels in and trade them 1-for-1 for other ones on the shelf. My grandmother was a frequent visitor to that bookshelf!)

    • Good point, Wendy, and thanks for reminding us all — some are very lucky to have had an independent (or chain) bookstore at all. That, of course, is one marvel of the digital era, in that we now all have access to books in ways we never did. As Mr. Bezos in his Prime loves to remind us. :)

      Thanks again, good to have you in the convo!

  15. Porter, my meds haven’t kicked in, so I can express my schizophrenia sans intervention: electronic efficiency trumps chocolate cupcakes regarding business sustainability. Bookstores won’t pre-heat many sales with half-baked ideas like that. And as a reader and author, I’m at home being part of the Kindleverse—you and your commenters here have ably outlined the advantages.

    Yet I do deeply enjoy tethering my horse outside my local bookstores for reasons that smack a bit of that needless nostalgia: rather than, “I like my transactions to be efficient, quick, impersonal, and affordable,” in a bookstore, I like to stumble around, bump into a serendipitous book I wouldn’t find in the Boolean cloud, flip some pages, feel the weight and smell of the tome, and look at the other bookstore weirdos that are doing the same. I’ll even buy books (perhaps even one a month!) that are more affordable from the Big A. Hallelujah!

    But verily, verily, indie stores need to do more than sniffily disdain electronic books and rail about publishing-industry changes to keep their doors open. (Perhaps chocolate versions of iPads to go with the Espresso machines?)

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  17. There aren’t many cool indie bookstores near me. I wish there was.

    As such /I don’t feel as strong about this as many. I love Amazon. Ebooks are useful. For instance, I purposely get all business related and self books on Kindle, even if it is more than the paperback. Why? So I can have them on me at all times

    I also love the real deal fiction books, too. Sometimes it’s nice to be in bed with an actual thing

    The world needs both. As such, Indie Stores need to get on board. I look forward to them offering Ebooks too, and for authors coming up with some innovative ways to capture the readers attention.

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Agree completely, Matt, and I think that sooner than later, we’ll be able to tell better which stores have responded to the digital dynamic and which have hung back in hopes that they could weather things out without making major adjustments. Fewer and fewer folks live near independent stores. I’ve been lucky to be around quite a number of them in various places, but I have to say their pleasures just never have risen to the level of a necessity for many people. “Nice to have,” not “need to have.” There are exceptions of course (both stores and people) but I think we’re seeing, in part, one of those situations in which the actual, actionable value of something will eventually have out. If bookstores can’t make coherent, effective moves to transform into something sustainable (and I recognize that this is far from easy), then I fear that their status as “nice to have” may finally get them. I certainly wish them well — it does nothing good for me to see a bookstore close. But once I needed them: they were the only way to get books. Now, I don’t need them: they are, in facts, a less convenient, more expensive and far more cumbersome, less efficient way to get books than my online sources are. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that destroys a business.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Agree, we don’t need them anymore so stores need to adapt. It’s all about the customer in the end of the day. I do hope some indie stores find this route. It would be a shame to lose them, but that is life

        Some will fail


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  19. I think Sarah is justified in calling out the people who say “I love bookstores!” and moan over the indies disappearing, but then order from Amazon because it’s cheaper and faster.

    If you think bookstores are dinosaurs, and you love digital, then BY ALL MEANS, fire up that Kindle and have at it. But then when the bookstores go down, please say “Yep, I did that. About time, too!” Don’t sit around saying “Oh, how sad, another bookstore closed. Ah, life! Why I remember when someone handsold me A Wrinkle In Time!”

    If you want them to be there, you have to buy your books there. That’s just logical. Are you ready to say “I don’t want brick and mortar stores. I only want Amazon!” with confidence? Be brave! Own it, if that’s your position. I’ve never heard anyone actually say this, somehow. You could be the first. if you want them to be there, you have to buy books there. If you DON’T want them there, then don’t buy books there. There are exactly two sides to this.

    The bake sale / book buying is a false analogy. Selling books is how bookstores operate their business — it’s what they’re supposed to be doing — it’s not a charity event. I guess a proper analogy would be saying “If you want the sermons to keep happening every Sunday, you have to put your butt in a pew once in a while.” And that is also logical. If you’re okay with the churches closing up shop, then don’t attend and don’t give them any money.

    Efforts like Sarah’s “bake sale” as you sneeringly call it and movements like #indiethursday or cash mobs aren’t solely to push cash into these businesses — although operating so close to the wire as many bookstores are, they won’t turn away even a small number of sales. These efforts send a message to the store owners: we care, we’re in your corner, we’re hoping you survive.

    That’s the ONLY message I want to send.

    • Thanks so much for your input. I can tell you need to hear nothing more from me, it seems you feel very secure with your opinions on this — which is good — and I wish you joy of them. Since I have no need to convince you of the rightness of my own (or anyone else’s) thoughts on the matter, I’ll just thank you again for your spirited remarks and wish you a good day.


  20. I think Sarah has every right to call out people who say “I love bookstores!” and then use Amazon anyway, and then say “Oh, how sad!” when a bookstore goes under.

    If someone is willing to say “I am done with bookstores. They can all close now. I’ll use Amazon exclusively!” then they should say it, and then they can feel happy when the bookstores close. They can say “Yay! I did that! Progress!” If they DO NOT want the bookstores to close then they must buy books at the bookstores. It’s just logical. There are really only two sides to this, and you vote with your money. The hypocrisy comes in when you vote for candidate A and then act sad when candidate B loses.

    The whole bake sale thing is a false analogy. Selling books isn’t a fund raiser, it IS a business model. It’s what bookstores do for a job. A better analogy would be to say “If you want the churches not to fall down, you need to get your butt into the pew on Sunday and put some money in the plate.” If you are fine with the churches going down, then please, ignore them. But then be happy and proud when your actions have an impact, and don’t stand around saying, “Awww, the churches are gone! But they were so pretty, and they fed homeless people, and they gave us a place to have weddings!”

    • Hi, I’m uncertain as to whether you may be the same person who just left another comment (immediately below this one) as “guest,” but I just want to say thank you for your input and for reading the post, much appreciated.

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