I was lucky enough to be invited to the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association annual meeting in Portland.Â The people were all very friendly and great lovers of books – mostly owners of independent bookstores, librarians, and publishers.Â With a few authors here and there.Â Obviously, the writer in me was tickled pink, Who wouldn’t be happy to get to meet more of the people who help make or break our careers, and who helped most of us as we grew up.Â In fact, besides wanting to be a writer, I also used to daydream about opening a bookstore.coffeehouse with open mic nights andÂ poetry readings.
But hey, we knew the writer would be happy there.Â But here are a few observations from when I tilt my futurist hat forward.
As authors, we fret about ebooks.Â Personally, I want my work available in as many formats as possible.Â But for independent bookstores (and to some extent also for libraries), they are not the most likely channel for new formats.Â Â I get that – I don’t buy audiobooks on CD any more (I used to get them from bookstore shelves).Â I buy them viaÂ itunes and drop ithem into my ipod. I also listen to a number of free podcasts including well-produced audio fiction.Â Apparently so do teenagers:Â sales of audio formats of book on CD for teenagers have gone way down.Â When I buy a kindle edition, I don’t get that from a physical bookstore either.Â So as the bubble of baby boomers who still love physical books passes through the system, who will be left and how will a bookstore or library engage them?
Both libraries and bookstores are challenged by electronic formats.
The library is luckier:Â they have a higher calling in the community and can hopefully provide new formats as they come out.Â The library is also full of tools to access those formats (there are hundreds of computers in, for example, the Seattle Public Library at the central branch).Â Libraries have been in the process of retaining their core mission and expanding their role as a community center for years (but it is still a struggle).
A bookseller needs a profit to survive.Â I don’t have the answer, but I know that I want these people’s businesses to thrive.
What do you think?Â What tools will help independent bookstores thrive in twenty years?