Guilt-Tripped by a Chalkboard Sign
“Thank God I won’t have to be guilt-tripped by those chalkboard signs anymore.”
This is article is satire, but man, I felt it. Bookstores rarely carry the book I’m shopping for (I often read older, backlist titles and indie published books). But heck if they aren’t fun to browse!
If bookstores don’t service my needs (insert sex joke here) as a reader or as an author, what’s left? Nostalgia?
I suspect the answer is indeed: Nostalgia.
The separation between indie publishing and traditional publishing is most keenly felt at the bookstore. Some blame snobbery, but I think that’s silly. The real reason is economic. For bookstores to make any profit, they require deep discounts (40-60%) off the cover price, plus the contracted right to return any and all books they order, no questions asked. Add to this equation the cost of printing and shipping, and you can see why the margins are tiny. It’s very difficult to be a bookseller!
Because of these economics, it makes little sense for an indie author like me to try to get her books into bookstores. I’d have to charge a ridiculous amount of money to account for the discounts and return-risk.
This situation is no one’s fault. It’s just math!
Yet we’ve created a bifurcated industry. Trad published books go into the bookstores in physical form, often with a brief shelf life, and authors either make a splash or they don’t. Publishers work their margins by selling the most expensive versions first (hardback, audio) and then they work their way down to paperback and mass market paperback. Indie published books go out mostly digital (with Print on Demand for physical book enthusiasts) and we sell on the “long tail” model. We tend to make our money on volume, like the pulphouse writers of old, sending out affordable entertainment at a good clip, building up niches of readers who like our style, capturing our readers via email lists to communicate with them directly.
(I’m sure I’m missing some nuances here.)
Anyway, my bigger point is that I’m slowly coming around to the realization that I only relate to bookstores in an emotional sense. When I see that chalkboard sign outside the bookstore I think:
Oh no! Bookstores are in trouble! I should go throw them a few bucks.
Well… maybe I should! Or, I could take the twenty-five bucks I would have spent on one physical book and buy five kick-ass indie novels, sending about 65% of my consumer cash directly into the pockets of authors like me. My community. Those authors (and their cover designers, editors, proofreaders, and so on) every bit as real and important as the cashier at the bookstore and the author doing a reading down the street. So why am I wringing my hands about damn bookstores?
Habit? Memory? Again, I come back to Nostalgia.
(insert the sound of a harp being strummed by a woodland faerie)
Is an author allowed to feel meh about physical bookstores? Probably not! And yet, here I am. But I’ll still drink espresso at bookstores. It’s my way of throwing a bit o-cash at the harp-strumming nostalgia faerie. Because who doesn’t love some nostalgia?
Nostalgia and coffee? That’s even better. 😜