This article first appeared on August 19, 2010 on John Ottinger’s Grasping for the Wind. With National Buy a Book Day coming up again this Saturday, I thought I’d go ahead and re-run that original post here. Though some of it may already seem a bit “dated,” the fact that so little has changed, economically, in the meantime is only more reason for us all to go out on Saturday and, well . . .
It started with a tweet, which warned of more layoffs ahead at Borders. I know a few people there, and one of them told me, “I’m only speculating, but I really think that unless Borders has a huge holiday sales run, they’ll be looking at bankruptcy by the early part of next year. I hope I’m wrong. And unless things change, it wouldn’t surprise me if B&N shares the same fate in a few years.”
That quote came to me from someone I know well, and someone I know to be a book lover: a bibliophile of the first order, a consumer of books, a collector of books, and a bookseller.
How do I tell you how much I value booksellers? It’s an old and noble profession, and one worthy of respect. Whether they sell books for a major national chain or a tiny local independent, they are no less booksellers. I love booksellers, and I want them to keep doing what they do.
I also love authors. There isn’t a single one I don’t value, even those who’ve written books I don’t like, or write in genres I don’t read. Anyone who puts him/herself out there in print is a hero to me. Talk about old and noble professions. Where would we be without the author? Probably still living in caves, and caves without graphic novels on the walls. I love authors, and I want them to keep doing what they do.
And I like publishers, too. Even the ones that have rejected my manuscripts, laid me off, published books I didn’t like, or publish genres I don’t read. I do wish some of them would stop paying multi-million-dollar advances to semi-literate “celebrities,” but then if one Sarah Palin can fund a dozen Mark Z. Danielewskis, then I say, “Viva Going Rogue.” But seriously, publishers do the impossible every day: They operate with razor thin margins in a business that forces them to essentially launch a new product line with every single release, and sell that new product line on a fully returnable, consignment basis, literally assuming all of the financial risk for what ends up being about a quarter of the cover price of maybe 30% of the books they paid to print, the remaining 70% of which are pulped. I love publishers, and I want them to keep doing what they do.
It used to be that publishing was considered one of those “recession proof” businesses. That tended to be the case with small-ticket entertainment items. When you’re unemployed it’s pretty much impossible to buy a car or go on vacation to Paris, but you can scrape up eight bucks for a book and be entertained for maybe even ten times longer than a $10 movie. Books are more expensive now than they were when I was a kid, but then so is everything, and comparably they’re still pretty cheap. A new front list video game is more than twice as expensive as a new front list hardcover. As I said, a mass market paperback is cheaper than a movie ticket. All these things are cheaper than a trip to Paris.
But this recession was different. It stabbed right at the weakest part of the publishing business: retail.
It’s phenomenally expensive to run a retail store. I know for sure, because I used to do it. I once ran a record store in suburban Chicago, and our monthly electric bill hovered around $10,000. The rent was about the same then there was payroll, insurance, etc. And I had to pay all those bills by selling CDs that cost me $11.57 at $15.99 each, while certain major national appliance store chains were selling them for $10.99. It became an impossible business, and off to the unemployment lines I went.
Bookstores have that same problem. They have to hold a huge inventory, even if it’s returnable, and in order to keep the lights on they have to sell an awful lot of books at eight bucks each. Some of them supplemented their operating costs with business loans. Enter the Great Recession, exit the line of credit, and the bottom fell out.
Quite a tale of woe.
So where does that leave us, the reader? And I assume if you’re coming to a site like Grasping for the Wind, you’re a reader. Like me, you love books, bookstores, authors, and maybe even publishers. Is there anything we can do to help? I think so.
On September 7, 2010 go to any bookstore anywhere and buy one new, full price book.
Before then, spread the word in any way you can (GoodReads, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
It’s just that easy—but a lot of us are going to have to do it.
I’m calling it National Buy a Book Day, which I made up off the top of my head. I decided it would be September 7 because I wanted to do it soon, had to pick a day, and September 7th is my birthday. There’s nothing more magical or significant to it than that.
I think you should buy a new book by a living author so the author receives full royalty, and both the publisher and the bookstore receive their full profit.
But any book will do, by any author, in any genre, in any format. You do not need to spend more than you can afford. A $7.99 mass market paperback counts. A $4.99 children’s book counts. As long as the book is new and full price, buy it from an indie, from a chain, in the suburbs or the city, whatever. If the book you’re buying is by a living author, we can encourage people who are writing now to keep writing. If you have the means and desire, buy more than one book. One book is all I’m asking, but if you can afford two, buy two, or three, or . . . Buy your book at a store you particularly like, in an area that has few bookstores, that otherwise supports your community, or you know is struggling—or buy it from any of the big chains. I don’t care.
Books are worth saving. Authors are worth supporting. Any town is always better having any bookstore in it. People who work in bookstores are literate, intelligent book lovers, and the world is a better place if they have a place to ply their trade. I love books, and I love book people—all books, and all book people.
It’s time to walk the walk.
SPREAD THE WORD!
Since this was written I’ve happily expanded the “rules” of National Buy a Book Day to include literally any book (yes, including e-books, graphic novels, and audio books) from any retailer (including online retailers or used book stores), and so on. If it’s a book, and you bought it on September 7, you’re participating in National Buy a Book Day.
What’s also changed in the last few years is that, with the help of some like-minded friends, I’ve put together the National Buy a Book Day Foundation. When you’re done buying books, I hope you’ll visit the foundation’s site and donate whatever you can. we need to raise about $1000 to file our federal tax paperwork so we can accept corporate donations and really start to spread the word and make this truly a national event.
But in the end, if you only have five bucks to spend on Saturday, spend it on a book. Donations can wait.