Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bookstore Closings Bankrupt America's Soul

The book apocalypse is coming soon, and for some it is already here.

According to the New York Daily News, the Bronx, an area with 1.4 million residents, will soon be without a single bookstore in its borders. Yes, you read that correctly.

Is it racism? Is t fear of the book industry’s changing landscape?  Is it a sign of the economy?

Certainly the book industry is changing. The marketplace is accelerating its move to online. Amazon alone is reportedly responsible for over 40 percent of all book sales and at least 60% of all ebook sales.  But when bookstores close, bookstore sales suffer. Here’s why:

Without a bookstore, people will devalue the book experience. Normally they can browse in a store, hang out, buy a cup of coffee, pick up a gift, etc. None of that will exist in the Bronx. People will only buy books they need or know they want, but what of the impulse buy? What of people discovering books simply because they are wandering through the store?

As stores disappear, the physical book is not seen as important as it used to be and people further go into digital books which further leads to price erosion and more store closings.  Bookstores not only serve the community’s purchasing needs, but hey create a sense of community for the literate public.

Barnes & Noble is the last store standing in the famed borough, in Co-Op City, but due to a lease dispute, the store is closing down.  It’s like seeing a church or a hospital close. The math never seems to add up.

In the case of the Bronx specifically, you have to wonder if racism plays a role in it being bookless. Sure the borough has a lot of poor blacks and Hispanics that speak English as a second or third language, but how are they supposed to elevate themselves without books? And for all the lower class people there, there are also middle class and even affluent people. They read, don’t they?

I live in nearby Westchester and though my neighborhood is blessed with two independent bookstores, a chain store is nowhere near me. In fact, when Borders collapsed three years ago nothing has filled the huge space it left in a Scarsdale strip mall. Maybe BN can relocate there?

But to see bookstores shudder at this pace is alarming. I think something like one half or one third of all NYC bookstores have closed since 200 or in the past decade. That’s screwed up. New York is the book publishing capital and the nation’s largest and most cultural city. It has 8.4 million residents and 50 million annual visitors and other outside commuters. We need more bookstores!

What is the solution? Communities need to support their remaining bookstores more than ever. But perhaps it is time that publishers start buying stores or for the government to give tax breaks for bookstores. We need smart businesspeople to be involved in the running sand marketing of bookstores. We need a movement to position bookstores as the sanctuary of the mind, the place where everyone can come to feel welcome and learn new things, discover amazing stuff, and be exposed to new ideas.

While store closings come upon us, Amazon continues to grow. It just signed a new deal with Simon & Schuster. No one knows how it is different from previous deals or how it compares to what was offered to Hachette Books, but we know this: Amazon touted in a statement that the agreement “specifically creates financial incentives for Simon & Schuster to deliver lower prices for readers.” 

Wow. Read that as less money for authors and publishers. Amazon will continue to underprice stores out of existence and to further make publishers beholden to them.

Amazon may have its role in servicing the marketplace, but if the whole industry goes online, we will all be diminished as a result.


Here is my 2014 Book Marketing & Publicity Toolkit: Based on 20+ years in publishing --

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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