Dennis Johnson writes a pessimistic piece on the Melville House blog, dated 7 January. There must be any number of places where the old local bookshop had to shut down in the face of competition from a chain, only to see that chain bookseller close down later on. But I’m not sure that he’s right to say that Hoboken is doomed for ever to be without bookshops. The cycle continues. We once had “independent” bookstores only, then we had independents and superstores which killed off many of the old independents. Now that the age of the superstore looks like it may be coming to an end, surely we have an opportunity for all those little mammals to flourish and evolve after the dinosaur crash. Reading his piece I thought (fleetingly) “I should open a bookstore in Hoboken”. I bet someone will.
Today Shelf Awareness tells us “Some 40 independent bookstores opened in 24 states during 2012, the American Booksellers Association reported. Five are branches of existing businesses and seven sell primarily used books. Bookselling This Week featured a complete list of the new indies.” (This compares with 37 new members in 2011.) Almost immediately Publishers Lunch throws a bucket of cold water over all this by tallying closures during the same period. “It’s informal, but since readers often ask us for tallies of stores that closed, in the Publishers Lunch archives we find reports of at least 28 independent bookstores that closed last year — along with accounts of others up for sale, or looking for new space/lease concessions. A few closings are already pending for 2013; the largest is the coming shutdown of United Methodist Publishing’s 57 Cokesbury Stores.” Yet shouldn’t we be surprised that, despite the doldrummy economic conditions, there were more openings than closings last year? Of course, I am assuming that Publishers Lunch captured all the closings, and that their list includes the various branches of Barnes and Noble that have shut.
There’s an almost irresistible urge to leap from statistics like this to lucubrations about e-books and the death of print. But consider: we are just beginning to come out of the worst recession of our lifetimes. The business cycle dictates that some enterprises die off, while new ones start up. And don’t forget: a not insignificant factor is Amazon.com, who although they do sell Kindles, are nevertheless the biggest retail account for many book publishers’ print books. From Digital Book World comes this “According to Codex, bookstores’ share of purchases has declined significantly: 65% in November 2010; in December 2012, 39% of purchases were in physical stores.” [Codex Group surveys about 3000 unique book buyers monthly.] However just as we are experiencing a burst of new publishing houses (especially self-published authors) so I believe we can anticipate small, specialized, customer driven bookshops springing up all over.
Nothing’s black and white: it’s all shades of grey.
A post from Mashable by Josh Catone makes an eloquent defense of the printed book. The piece is valuable too for the many links he provides.