Say It Ain’t So!
February 13, 2011

Even though I know it is. Last week, Powell’s Bookstore, the deservedly famous independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, announced that it laid off thirty-one workers.

Consumer behavior—how, where, and what people read—has changed dramatically over the past several years. . . . Given that company sales are down this fiscal year, and that we are projecting annual sales decreases for the next few years, we need to take immediate steps to scale the company to our sales.

Bookstores are hurting. Borders is filing bankruptcy. B&N is looking a bit ill too. (Amazon is apparently doing okay, but they sell far more than books and are therefore not in the same category.) And the independent stores, which for the most part depend on their local community for survival, are struggling.

One independent I always thought would survive well was Powell’s. It’s been web savvy almost from the beginning, and it’s taken on every challenge as an opportunity. It markets itself and its books relentlessly and in some pretty damn creative ways. It’s not that Powell’s is going out of business. The layoffs affected less than ten percent of their workforce. But it’s a sign of the times, one that seems to me larger than most. So when this news broke it was a shock to me.

Like Nicki Leone, I have pretty strong feelings about the need for physical bookstores, especially independent ones. I do shop at my local one, though I also buy online—from Powell’s, from publishers’ websites, from the remainder dealer Edward R. Hamilton, from an occasional store in another state, and even—only twice though—from Amazon. I suspect many others also use various places. but I retain a special affection for Powell’s, and like any good relationship I want it to thrive and to be there for me.

So when I can I do my part. I buy from them, and I link to them when we list the books at the end of each column. And I hope that the recent surgery will enable them to stay healthy. I don’t “hate” Amazon or chain bookstores. But I dread the idea of a world in which those would be the only places to look for books.

Upcoming Book Festivals:
Two coming up: Next weekend, beginning on Friday, February 18 and running through Sunday, February 20, Georgia will host the Savannah Book Festival, which will feature an opening night keynote address by Lisa Genova, forty authors appearing on Saturday, and a special Saturday evening event with Ryan and Sandra Brown. Sunday has two events: mid-morning will be a Sunday Bruch with Vince Dooley, and in the late afternoon there will be a Life and Times of Karl Rove.

Florida  is the location of the Amelia Island Book Festival to be held next weekend, February 18-19. Friday’s events include Authors in Schools, Books ‘n Jazz on the Marsh    Authors’ Reception featuring keynote speaker Jamie Ford (already sold out),  and Writers’ Workshops. Saturday’s events include, in addition to all the free panels, chats, music, signings, a day-long Children’s Chapter, Author Bites, and the Author’s Luncheon and Readers’ Workshops. A few of these require tickets, but most are free.

The Pub House:
Dark Coast Press is a small, independent publisher in Seattle, Washington that issues works of “literary fiction, fiction, poetry, abstract, and experimental writing”—things you are unlikely or less likely to see at larger houses. It’s a new press, having been founded in October of 2009 so they only have three books listed on their site, two coming this year. Is that bad? Not necessarily. Publishing is a risky business so getting a house up and running takes time, energy, experience, and talent. And if they focused first on getting their foundation into place before asking for manuscripts then they are doing it right.

So . . . the book that is available now is An Dantomine Eerly by Jarrett Middleton, one of the editors of Dark Coast. It is the story of Irish-American poety Dallin who, as he is daying, recalls the surreal geography (a ghostly barroom, city streets, a desolated forest) and traumatic events (political persecution, planned murder) that brought him to this point. Coming up in May of 2011 are two more books that also sound intriguing: Elynia and Other Stories and Thirteen Fugues.

Imaging Books & Reading:
If you want to read more, do you need to get rid of your television? Some would say yes, others would answer no. It all depends, doesn’t it?

Of Interest:
Fresh Eyes Now is the blog of Robert Gray. I first came across him when I began subscribing to the bookseller’s e-newsletter, Shelf Awareness. So it’s not surprising that many of his posts are about bookstores and booksellers. Yet they are not dull. On the contrary I often feel as if I am reading mini-biographies with all the juice still in juicy, not gossip but genuine looks at people, events, and anniversaries that fascinate. It’s an amusing, warm blog that is worth reading for all bibliophiles.

Until next week, read well, read often and read on!




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