As some of you have probably heard, James Patterson is giving money to bookstores. Lots of money. One million dollars to be exact. His goal is to bring more awareness to the financial problems bookstores (specifically your mom-and-pop, local indie ones) are having. Amazon, big chains (looking at you, B&N), and e-books are wreaking havoc on traditional booksellers.
The issue of disappearing indie stores (of all kinds, not just bookstores) has been bothering me for quite a while.
I live in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus happens to be full of young people and hipsters. We pride ourselves on being progressive. (Yes, a city in the Midwest that’s progressive. Take a deep breath; it’s possible.) Columbus has very few indie bookstores. I’ve got two B&N’s within a five-mile radius, though. And one campus bookstore and a Half Price. If I do an indie store search, I’ve got two indie stores in the surrounding 10 miles: one that only sells mysteries, and one that only carries children’s books. Not a whole lot of options.
So what do I normally do? The answer depends on what I’m looking for.
First, I fully avoid Barnes and Noble. I’m not quite boycotting them (I tend to boycott a lot of stores, Wal-Mart topping the list), but I can’t think of much that I’ve bought there since I’ve graduated college. (And the only reason I bought stuff there in college was because they had a monopoly on certain textbooks.) So I’m down to Amazon and Half Price. If I’m looking for something specific that I need right now (which is rare), I go with Amazon. And I normally feel guilty about it, but there aren’t many other options. If I’m just browsing or can wait, Half Price is the ticket. I go to Half Price probably at least every couple of weeks. I like the idea of getting used books. It’s better for the environment that way.
Which leads me to my next point. I’m torn about e-books. I don’t have many, and most of the ones I do have are the free classics offered by various apps. I do have a lot of actual books. They dominate the decor in my house. I tend to be more traditional on my views on reading: I like to hold an actually book, turn the pages, smell it. I like the full experience. On the other hand, it’s well-known that e-books are better for the environment. Fewer tress killed, less fuel used in shipping, etc. They also help spread and increase literacy to people who don’t necessarily have access to a library or a bookstore. Not to mention the fact that burgeoning authors can publish e-books easier than going about it the traditional way. So I don’t have a problem with e-books in theory. I do recognize, however, that e-books contribute to the competition for indie bookstores. But, love ’em or hate ’em, e-books are here to stay.
So, should we save independent bookstores? With the shifting trends in consumerism (more online purchases, more e-books) and advances in technology, should we throw money at them in an attempt to keep relics from the past?
My answer is yes. I’m proud of James Patterson for giving money to these struggling entities. I think it will be quite a while before the only access to physical books a person has is through the glass at a museum. Hopefully, anyway. I don’t think our culture is ready to completely disregard mom-and-pop shops.
So let’s help the indie bookstores. Let’s find one in our neighborhoods (or a little outside our neighborhoods) and go buy something. Let’s support our local economy. Let’s make sure the e-book, while useful in some aspects, doesn’t completely destroy book culture as we know it. Let’s make sure online retailers and big chains don’t get all our money.
Let’s make a difference. James Patterson is.
And while you’re at it, go visit your local library. They need help, too.