I had planned to write about villains today.
Instead, I found myself moved to tears by a blog post I read and the comments that followed, and I sat feeling helpless for a moment, blinking back tears, rifling through my memories and wrestling with the itch in my fingers. Because I don’t really want to write this post right now. In fact, it’s the last post I want to write. It’s the one argument I have avoided with religious zeal, trying to stay on the sidelines and keep my blinders on. Trying to keep my eyes on my goal.
Book on shelf.
That’s my goal.
If I don’t want to write this, then why on earth am I doing it? And what, pray tell, am I trying to say?
Book on shelf has been my goal for over a decade. I’d walk through Chapter One Bookstore in Hamilton, Montana and picture my book on those shelves. I’d walk through Hastings, or Borders, or Barnes and Nobles, or any number of smaller bookstores I’d encountered.
When I think of Portland, Oregon, setting for parts of my trilogy and where I spent five years of my early life, the first thing that comes to mind is a bookstore. Powell’s Bookstore downtown, a store that takes up an entire city block. This bookstore has color-coded rooms and over a million books. New, used, loved. I used to spend as much time there as my mom would let me. I remember walking through as a teenager when I visited my sister, marveling at how it had still managed to stay so massive when I had grown so much. Again as a college student, combing the shelves for books on World War II Poland.
My life has been a journey from bookstore to bookstore. My development as a writer and as a human being I attribute to the wealth of books that line the shelves in my spare room. When we move, I load them into liquor boxes. When I heft their weight, I have never felt annoyance. I have never thought to get rid of them. They are my prized possessions and part of my identity. I heft their weight and I feel years within, moments of love and loss and epiphany, of learning and and change.
My journey has been from bookstore to bookstore in the hopes that one day, I would journey to one and see my books on shelves, next to authors I value. That I would make a home there in truth. Book on shelf. Book on shelf. Book on shelf. It’s what I tell myself every time I write, every time I strive to be better, to learn more about the markets, to research the agents I want to query. All with that goal in mind.
But what if the shelf dissolved?
What if that shelf simply vanished out from under my future books? Where would I go, if not to a bookstore?
When I walk into a bookstore, I hear the whisper of a million voices. Authors, characters, living, rustling stories.When I walk into a bookstore, I feel tension flee my body in the face of so many words, so much struggle and fighting to arrive there. When I walk into a bookstore, I feel at home.
Between 2000 and 2007, over one thousand bookstores closed.
The Davis-Kidd in Green Hills in Nashville, where I used to walk to spend my lunch break, no longer exists.
We greatly appreciate the support Davis-Kidd Booksellers received from the Nashville and Memphis communities for over 30 years, and are especially thankful for the opportunity to work side by side with such an outstanding group of booksellers.
Borders closed 466 satellite mall stores and 517 full bookstores since 2009 when they went out of business, putting over 10,000 people out of work.
Barnes and Nobles, once-touted as the fanged, black-hatted murder of indie bookstores, now seems to be the last stronghold against a total Amazon digital monopoly.
Barry Eisler, in his address to the Writer’s Digest conference, touted the advent of e-books as the advent of choice for writers. But what about for readers? If the shelves disintegrate under the weight of un-bought books, there will be no choice.
There is never a choice when one company has a monopoly.
What would be ideal is a world where balance existed between physical bookstores and e-books. What’s unfortunate is that economics do not care about balance. Economics don’t care about physics or the properties of evolution or thriving ecosystems where the circle of life exists.
In business, money flows uphill. Money flows toward places where it is already amassed. Why am I talking about money? Because right now, the money flows toward Amazon. The amount of money? About $88 billion.
Money does not flow downhill. It doesn’t respond to the laws of physics unless you put it in a hamster ball and set it on the Continental Divide. I can think of one thing that flows downhill, and it starts with the letter S.
With Barnes and Nobles locked in a fight of survival with the new behemoth of e-books and digital purchasing, this transcends beyond whether you want to self-publish or be traditionally published. Right this moment, you still have a choice.
But if Amazon wins?
If they put Barnes and Nobles out of business? If they topple the remaining physical booksellers and vaporize the shelves across America? Your choice goes away. My choice goes away. And so does my most heartgrown dream.
It’s not inevitable; I don’t believe it’s inevitable.
But at this moment, I feel threatened, like someone has a gun to the head of my most loyal childhood friend and that that person will pull the trigger if it will get them more money.
When I read articles where people flat-out scorn independent bookstores — and bookstores in general — it feels like a punch to the gut. When did physical books become a villain? How on earth did I miss that? When did they become the enemy, something to be destroyed at all cost? How does any reader, whether they read by Nook or by Kindle or iPad or handwritten letters — how does any reader think this is okay?
My question to you, gentle viewers, is this: have we moved into a world where the publishers are the ones in black hats? Have authors grown so utterly frustrated by the gatekeepers that they want to see them gone forever? Have we given up on books? Physical books?
If Amazon becomes the publishing monopoly at the expense of bookstores, I don’t know if I could forgive them.
The question it most pains me to ask is the inevitable follow-up. Did my dream evaporate before I got a chance to fulfill it? If I find an agent this year, if that agent finds me a book deal, in two years when my book comes out — will there be a shelf left to put in on?
Or will I have to look at it on a screen instead of feeling its weight in my hands?
I am a lover of words. I am a writer and a dreamer. I live for the pages, for the stories, for the people who live within them.
I write this not to alienate those who e-publish, nor do I wish to belittle the dreams of others. What I’ve written feels like naked exposure, and I did not write these words lightly. No. They bear down on me like the pressing of heavy stones upon my shoulders. I invite you to dialogue, to discuss.
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