Bookstore chains: What you can and can’t read

A disturbing number of writers are apparently being effectively blacklisted by bookstore chains, even though some of these writers’ books sell pretty well. Gregory Frost witnessed this first-hand when good sales and repeat printings for his novel Shadowbridge weren’t enough to induce a U.S. chain to stock the sequel, Lord Tophet (actually the second half of what should have been one long single volume, but that’s another story). Greg rises above the level of rant to explore why this might be so:

The publisher is required by its owner to turn out bestsellers with assembly line regularity. The dying megastores need the extra income at the same time that they have begun to winnow other titles by those already handicapped authors. In the frenzy of rewards and discounts and product placement, the entire industry has completely lost sight of what it once was in business to provide: Good books. We the readers are the ultimate losers in this rigged game.

My solution is no different than all the writers who’ve shouted from the battlements before me: Buy your books from independent bookstores; the ones that have survived the onslaught, the ones that we hope will arise to fill the gap.

Writers pre-published and otherwise, of course, have an even better motive to support indies. The chains are not our friends. They limit your choices — and your purchases pour money into a dying business model anyway. Whatever chains may be today, they are not the future.

[In my next life, I’d like to be a cat in a bookstore by Glynnis Ritchie]

4 thoughts on “Bookstore chains: What you can and can’t read”

  1. It’s clear as a mallet that booksellers being pressured my market mechanics into a more generic product range will induce the eclectic set of customers look for alternatives… hmmm what could that be? I thus assess that within a few years the momentum for a take-off point for e-readers (or something a lot easier to use) will be reached and the practice paper books will be reduced to very small and selective range, like the brittanica. In two decades the practice of reading physical books will dwindle to that of a few old people protesting. Even students in the third world have switched to hacked write-offs. Reading will escape the pages and the content of the average “book” will be a complex animated 3D environment with the odd text bit passing by, but sounds, hotlinks, explanations, footnotes, forums, blogs, derivatives, fan art, speculation, argumentation, griefing attempts, forums, option menus, authors comments, webcam links, fan art, cosplay, algorithmic animated margin decorations, icons, culture jamming, character assassination and wufty-wars – and things we don’t even have words for. It will be a completely intuitive jungle of input we can edit at will, or will be edited automatic based on our user preference algoritms.

    Either that or we will be burning books to keep warm while fieldstripping our “hello kitty” bullpup flechette metalstorm kalashnikovs.

  2. The notion that a bookstore chain somehow controls (or even influences) what I can or can’t read seems very XXth-century. _Lord Tophet_ is on, it’s on, there are at least a dozen on alibris, etc, etc. Why should I care whether it’s physically stocked at the chain bookstore next to the movie theater down at the mall? I’d be interested in know just how much difference the chains’ decisions actually make on sales (and on author income).

  3. Hi, David:

    It’s still the 20th century, or even the 19th, in many industries. Dragging publishing into the 20th century would be progress, I think.

    You sort of make my point. Unless you look past the chains, you’re likely to go Tophet-less, and unlikely to stumble across somebody like (random example) LeClerzio before he won the Nobel. (No, I had never heard of him before that.)

    Convenience is another issue, of course. Sometimes easy wins the day, and sometimes I read the labels of every item on my grocery list to minimize my purchases from red states.

    Oh: And since I have no money, I use the public library more and more often these days.

    It’s a complex issue, and I’m sure my post doesn’t do it justice.

  4. Well, at least Futurismic Magazine seems to understand that we are in the 21st century. I say that simply because Futurismic accepts emailed submissions! And I still find it remarkable that so many leading SF magazines,even those publishing online, will consider only paper manuscripts submitted via snailmail. Here’s hoping those backward folks start following Futurismic’s example.

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