Monday, February 12, 2007

Link-Mad Monday: Mad World

Ready for some links, O my bookish friends?

* Here's that piece in Bookselling This Week about the Book Nerd experience at Winter Institute. Read for all the bits you didn't get here.

* At the WI session on PR, there was a round of indignant applause when one bookseller mentioned "the same old story" that major media had decided was "sexy", especially in the days since You've Got Mail. You know that story: woe to independent bookstores, they are dying if not already dead, the only reason to go to them is sentimentality, what a tragedy. (Never mind the opening of 97 new independent bookstores last year, the success stories from New York City to North Carolina, the innovative new stores and those that have continued to evolve for decades, the smart business people who are educating themselves and adapting to a changing retail environment... but don't get me started.)

Well, here's another version of the same old story from the L.A. Times (go to bugmenot.com if you need a password to view the article). This time it's prompted by the decision of the owner of Booksmith in San Fransisco to sell his store, and it's followed by gloomy prognostications and dismissals from book buyers and sellers (including Lewis Buzbee, author of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, which disappoints me; maybe he needs to visit some newer stores, huh?) The irony is that in the last paragraph the store finds a buyer and gets a new direction -- hardly an unhappy ending! The new owner, Praveen Madan, states this as his goal:

""Create the store for the 21st century. If you do it well, you'll give customers a reason to come back. But you can't do it by making them feel guilty."

Well said, sir. I'll be watching the continuing saga of Booksmith with interest -- and optimism.

* Have I talked at length about the exciting newness of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association' fall show? No? No longer a "trade show" in the traditional sense (with an emphasis on the publishers making sales on the show floor), this one will be more of a "bookseller sales conference", focusing on bookseller education and allowing publishers to help us pitch the best of the books we've already bought, for more sales all around. I've been talking with President Joe Drabyak (who was there in full force at WI, though we somehow missed each other at all the parties) and the rest of the board about our plans for the fall (in Baltimore, hooray!) and getting excited. And I believe henceforth the fall show should be known at NAIBA CON!

* Here at home, two funny stories from Brooklyn bookselling in my very own neighborhood. First, the fabulous blog Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn broke the story that the Park Slope Barnes & Noble had posted a sign on the door banning strollers from inside the store. The rationalization: strollers were taking up too much room and blocking other customers from the books. (I don't doubt it; have you seen some of those Hummer-size designer strollers? Still, customers are customers...) The story was picked up by other blogs (Brooklyn Record and Curbed and New York magazine among others). Of course, in this young-mom-saturated neighborhood, the backlash was immediate. And then there was backlash against the backlash, as non-kid-having Brooklynites and bookstore patrons vented their own woes. The store has in some ways become a lightening rod for the ongoing battle between the parents and the non-parents of this kid-obsessed neighborhood. (The bookstore has since removed the sign, according to the New York Sun.)

The debate, while a somewhat hilarious example of something that would happen only in Park Slope, speaks directly to the serious question of the role a neighborhood bookstore plays or should play. Is it a place to "come in, buy a book, and leave" as one OTBKB commenter believes? Or a place to meet friends, hang out, kill time, browse? What responsibility does the bookstore have to both kinds of bookstore-goers? When does one person's right to browse infringe on another person's right to buy? Should we be focused on serving hurried paying customers, or on creating a welcoming vibe? I sympathize with B&N in this case; it's a hard question that involves compromise however you look at it.

In even stranger Park Slope news, cool young bookstore Adam's Books (a passionate favorite of the ALP, and a place I'll be forever indebted to for my mass market copy of WINTER'S TALE) has become Unnameable Books. You can find the brief version of the reason why at the old Adam's Books website; it seems there's a textbook distribution company in Brooklyn called Adams Book Company, which has threatened to sue (or otherwise inconvenience) the tiny bookstore. While I don't know the legal realities of the situation, it does seem like an unnecessarily thuggish move on the part of a company that it doesn't seem could have any real overlap with a small general bookstore (read this letter Brooklyn writer Amy King sent to the "other" Adams pretty for a strong argument to that effect).

Luckily, the new name is pretty cool And you can't keep a good bookstore down. I suspect that Adams' (not Adam's) insistence on their right to the name will end up making them look bad and will bring more publicity and customers to Adam's/Unnameable. If you're a New Yorker, visit bookstore on Bergen between 5th and 6th (just down the street from the Bergen Street 2/3 subway), and tell him you're happy to shop there whatever the name.

That's it for today -- happy reading!