12 Reasons for the Death of Small and Independent Bookstores

To sink to the old good news/bad news routine, Avenue Victor Hugo Bookstore is closing its doors after 29 years. Vince McCaffrey lays out his view of the objective conditions that led to this final closing:

Twelve reasons for the death of small and independent bookstores

Ever thankful to those who made the effort before us, with heartfelt apologies to those who are still in the fight and the few who support them–offered upon the closing of Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop in Boston.

1. Corporate law (and the politicians, lawyers, businessmen and accountants who created it for their own benefit)–a legal fiction with more rights than the individual citizen, which allows the likes of Barnes & Noble and Walmart to write off the losses of a store in Massachusetts against the profit of another in California, while paying taxes in Delaware–for making ‘competition’ a joke and turning the free market down the dark road toward state capitalism.

2. Publishers–marketing their product like so much soap or breakfast cereal, aiming at demographics instead of people, looking for the biggest immediate return instead of considering the future of their industry, ignoring the art of typography, the craft of binding, and needs of editing, all to make a cheapened product of glue and glitz–for being careless of a 500 year heritage with devastating result.

3. Book buyers–those who want the ‘convenience’ and ‘cost savings’ of shopping in malls, over the quaint, the dusty, or the unique; who buy books according to price instead of content, and prefer what is popular over what is good–for creating a mass market of the cheap, the loud, and the shiny.

4. Writers–who sell their souls to be published, write what is already being written or choose the new for its own sake, opt to feed the demands of editors rather than do their own best work, place style over substance, and bear no standards–for boring their readers unto television.

5. Booksellers–who supply the artificial demand created by marketing departments for the short term gain, accept second class treatment from publishers, push what is ‘hot’ instead of developing the long term interest of the reader–for failing to promote quality of content and excellence in book making.

6. Government (local, state and federal)–which taxes commercial property to the maximum, driving out the smaller and marginal businesses which are both the seed of future enterprise and the tradition of the past, while giving tax breaks to chain stores, thus killing the personality of a city–for producing the burden of tax codes only accountants can love.

7. Librarians–once the guardians, who now watch over their budgets instead–for destroying books which would last centuries to find room for disks and tapes which disintegrate in a few years and require costly maintenance or replacement by equipment soon to be obsolete.

8. Book collectors–who have metamorphosed from book worms to moths attracted only to the bright; once the sentinels of a favorite author’s work, now mere speculators on the ephemeral product of celebrity–for putting books on the same level with beanie babies.

9. Teachers–assigning books because of topical appeal, or because of their own lazy familiarity, instead of choosing what is best; thus a tale about the teenage angst of a World War Two era prep school boy is pushed at students who do not know when World War Two took place–for failing to pass the torch of civilization to the next generation.

10. Editors–who have forgotten the editorial craft–for servicing the marketing department, pursuing fast results and name recognition over quality of content and offering authors the Faustian bargain of fame and fortune, while pleading their best intentions like goats.

11. Reviewers–for promoting what is being advertised, puffing the famous to gain attention, being petty and personal, and praising the obscure with priestly authority–all the while being paid by the word.

12. The Public–those who do not read books, or can not find the time; who live by the flickering light of the television, and will be the first to fear the darkening of civilization–for not caring about consequences.

"Thus, we come to the twilight of the age of books; to the closing of the mind; to the pitiful end of the quest for knowledge–and stare into the cold abyss of night."

John Usher

From THE HOUND by John Usher, copyright 2004. Permission to reproduce is granted to all upon request with proper attribution.

I have some views on these matters of book commerce, but I am hoping to sit down with Vince and talk about his years in the trade and other things and thus air my own thoughts in a more contentious context.

Gerard Jones, infamous for his iconoclastic web site Everyone Who’s Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing, has published his long repressed novel, Ginny Good. No surprise then that G (I guess I must disclose that I frequently correspond with him and thus have been given to referring to Jones as ‘G’) has brought his singular brand of skeptical exuberance to this fiction, which in fact was the catalyst to the greater infamy he has gained by tugging at the beards of the high and mighty. I think I’ll save my take on Ginny Good for when I have actually read the whole thing. I have so far been prevented from doing so by the inability to go though a few pages without busting a gut laughing—this is additionally embarrassing in public where my gleeful outbursts were greeted with the kind of body language one might expect of Tourette’s sufferers. I wrote G telling him that I thought a surgeon general’s warning might be appropriate.

Anyway, what I am distressed about is that the 3rd edition of EWA has gotten a few mentions at the more conscientious web logs but not one mention of G’s GG. This is, of course, gives some credence to reason # 11 in the above mentioned autopsic list. You’d think someone, other than me, would be curious to know why Scott Spenser blurbs Ginny Good with the opaque reference "weirdly triumphant." Right? So far, I guess not.

So which is the good news and which the bad?

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