Archives for category: Bookstores

This takes place this Saturday, 29 April, today. Out there and buy a book!

LitHub marks the occasion with a little piece entitled 10 of the Best Indie Bookstores in the World. Warning: visiting them all will require quite a bit of travel, but what better now that Spring beckons? Oops; I guess Australia’s tending towards winter though.

What makes a bookstore a “best bookstore”? Going there a lot is probably, for me, the primary requirement, which kind of rules out trips to Oz or Ireland. Bowes & Bowes* in Cambridge probably heads my list — as a student I was in and out all the time. One of their best features was that they were willing to open accounts for undergraduates — and the bill would be settled by my parents at the end of the term (I guess). In the same genre I remember fondly the shop in Sedbergh, Titus Wilson’s, where we used to go to get our schoolbooks, on the same financial basis. I don’t think it really was a bookstore: they just got in the books we’d have to buy and we bought them — not a bad business model! Another favorite was the bookshop in Galashiels, called I think, Dawson’s (but I’d be prepared to be told I was wrong). It disappeared so long ago that I find it difficult to identify even where it was — it just doesn’t look like a shop was ever there!

Actually, I suspect that the key feature in making a place your favorite is the opening of an account. If you can walk out with a book without having to bother about any sort of payment, I suspect you’re likely to return more often and to buy more books. Our local liquor store gets my business on this basis — though in their case it’s “Charge to the card on file?”: that does the trick, and it means you don’t even need to pack a wallet to come out merry! Bookstores: consider the opening of customer accounts as a way of keeping customers loyal. Of course deadbeats do need to be identified up front.


* For those who care there’s a nice recent history of Bowes & Bowes in the comments at the post Oldest bookstore.

This is the question asked by an article by Arvyn Cerézo from BookRiot. Let’s hope it doesn’t look like the photo at the head of the article where you’d have to risk life and limb to be able to take a book off a shelf.

Given the depressingly negative opening — “The state of bookstores feels shaky: plenty of them have shuttered, failing to adapt to changing times” — I guess we should be happy they foresee any future at all. This first sentence is so much the opposite of what I would have assumed — lots of new bookstores opening, Barnes & Noble going great guns, going from strength to strength, publishers seeing record sales — that I had to check that we were looking at a current article, not one reprinted from five years back.

What’s in store, we are told, is:

  • future bookstores will feel like a shopping center
  • future bookstores will feel like a community center
  • future bookstores will probably go niche
  • future bookstores will feel like a stationery store or hybrid store
  • future bookstores will use advanced technology.

Who can disagree? That and a whole lot of other things of course, all as mutually contradictory as this lot. (Funny how the word “hybrid” has become so sexy of recent years.)

We are treated to the usual saws: “Technology rapidly evolves, and industries scramble to catch up. Though publishing is generally a slow-moving industry, bookstores need to up their ante to compete with other industries.” I really don’t think there’s any real evidence that “industries struggle to catch up” with technology — in fact the exact opposite contention might be just as true. Publishing is only a slow-moving industry in the sense that it takes about a year to turn an author’s manuscript into a salable book.* Technological changes which have been adopted by the book business have come at the rate of one major change every four or five years since I began making and getting rid of books. It always makes composition of an article more straightforward if you start off trashing the industry, and then disclose your own brilliant plan of salvation. The fact that thousands got there before you will with luck never be noticed by your readers.

While one can see the old-fashioned, usually second-hand, bookstore surviving without any internet connection, even the used book market works better with online help. I think there’s no question that bookshops selling new books will be more technologically linked in than ever. It’s obviously maladaptive to tell a customer you don’t have the book they want, and then just say goodbye. Any bookstore can get any book mailed to any customer anywhere without too much planning, and without much of a wait.

Until such time as we collectively decide that we all want to get our reading materials, whether entertainment, educational, informational or whatever, via AI-facilitated e-readers or whatever, bookshops will be a necessary part of the distribution system for books. As in the past, they will doubtless come in a wide variety of formats.


* which isn’t because publishers are lazy or incompetent; it’s because authors are used to (and demand) a bit of help in editing their texts, plus to some extent because there are times of the year when it’s not as easy to sell lots of books as at others, so you wait for the right time. Remember how quickly an “instant book” can come out: within weeks.

We just visited Bermuda — a small, crowded archipelago “island” a couple of hours by air from the eastern USA. All the houses have to have white roofs, and rain water is collected in cisterns because there is no room on the tiny islands for rivers and lakes.

Bermuda was originally just an uninhabited place where sailors would get shipwrecked. Although on the map it looks like a long S, it is in fact the southern half of an atoll representing the caldera of an ancient volcano, and has to its north a similar long curved “island” — this one however submerged below the surface of the se. These submerged reefs are there to surprise incautious mariners and wreck their vessels. The ones who ended up staying were the survivors of the Sea Venture a supply ship headed for Jamestown which went down in a hurricane in 1609. From the wreckage they built a couple of boats and went on to Jamestown: the Virginia Company took on the administration of this new place. Bermuda is now the oldest and most populous British colony.

We talked with the local bookseller, who allowed as how they felt neither one nor the other when it came to territorial rights — USA or UK and Commonwealth, but were currently favoring the UK with more orders because the exchange rate was so good. Every now and then a publisher may wake up to the issue, and regretfully say they can no longer supply this or that book into what is obviously a British Commonwealth market. Little market tests are constantly going on as the booksellers can observe this book selling better in its UK cover or that one selling out in its American edition. They pointed to a number of local self-published titles, and reported that one of the more successful among those authors was actually a Bermuda printer himself, and so was making his books locally as well as selling them thus.

The first printer in Bermuda was Joseph Stockdale who arrived in Bermuda in 1783 with the impressive title of King’s Printer. He had, obviously, to bring all his type, machinery, and paper with him, and on 17 January 1784 published the first issue of the Bermuda Gazette and Weekly Advertiser. He edited, published and printed this newspaper for twenty years, aided by his three daughters. He also organized a postal service for the island, making deliveries once a week. After his death the newspaper was carried on by his daughters, and the spouse of one (he was eventually exiled for excessively critical editorials). The Bermuda Gazette and Weekly Advertiser eventually petered out around 1831 in the face of competition from new arrivals.

It looks likely that in The Tempest Shakespeare is describing an island based on Bermuda. In Act 1 Ariel tells how Prospero called on him “to fetch dew / From the still-vex’d Bermoothes”. Timing might be considered a bit tight though: the play was first publicly performed on 1 November 1611 (no doubt privately before that), but William Strachey’s letter describing the place was written in 1610 and didn’t reach London till September of that year. Strachey, a native of Saffron Walden, was on the Sea Venture when she was wrecked on Bermuda, and wrote an eyewitness account, A true reportory of the wracke and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight; vpon, and from the Ilands of the Bermudas: his comming to Virginia, and the estate of that Colonie then, and after, vnder the gouernment of the Lord La Warre, Iuly 15. 1610, which was eventually published in 1625 in Purchas His Pilgrimes (incidentally, one of the sources for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn).

At the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association’s website, Larry Law offers downloads of this poster. He comments “I made this graphic because I wanted a digestible message about what independent bookstores have to compete against”. (Link via Shelf Awareness of 24 March.)

Never underestimate the difficulty of competing against a huge, deep-pocketed industry leader — but it does seem that independent bookstores have weathered the last two or three years in better shape than they looked to be in before. Amazon’s still there of course, even if lots of their business is being conducted by sales affiliates.

Publishers remain supportive of independent bookstores: the widest possible distribution of books is an obvious industry objective. But it is difficult for them to ignore the weight of Amazon in their sales numbers. The business stumbles forward hoping not to poke that sleeping dog while at the same time trying to keep the cats purring.

This seems like a good idea: a library identifying its local bookstore supplier. Here’s an item from Shelf Awareness of March 17 in its entirety:

The Starr Library in Rhinebeck, N.Y., is showing patrons the source for the books it buys from its local bookstore with stickers that read “This title purchased locally from Oblong Books, Millerton & Rhinebeck.” Oblong co-owner Suzanna Hermans commented: “This was their idea, and while we’ve always had a strong relationship with their library (and our other locals!) this really means the world to us. We love our local libraries!”

“Reports from Publishers Weekly indicate that will begin selling ebooks by the end of the year and will publish its first print book in October” announces Good E Reader.

Turns out that Lydia Davis was adamant that her latest book should not be sold through For whatever reasons she’s a committed anti-Amazonian. No traditional publisher seemed to believe that they were capable of executing this trick — after all if a particular retailer is responsible for selling more than half your wares, it’s perhaps not too sensible to piss them off by signaling disapproval in this way. The consequences for Farrar Straus or whomever of ruffling Amazon’s feathers are of course a little more serious than they are for Ms Davis, and it’s not too surprising that she couldn’t persuade any publishers to go along with her embargo. Bookshop came to the rescue. Andy Hunter, founder of Bookshop, says “We decided to publish the book, because we could keep it off of Amazon by working with Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and others”. They plan an initial print run of 10,000.

In an obviously related story it was announced on Monday that Amazon would be laying off another 9,000 employees.

Once upon a time the word “hack” had the mildly pejorative meaning of a person who writes too much, and not too well about too many things. (For non-readers it would have conjured up the image of a horse for riding.) The Oxford English Dictionary‘s definition (among of course all the other senses of the word) goes “Originally: a person who may be hired to do any kind of work as required; a drudge, a lackey (cf. hackney n. 2). In later use: spec. a person who hires himself or herself out to do any kind of literary work; (hence) a writer producing dull, unoriginal work, esp. to order.” Now of course the term has become more ominous, making us think of Russian organized crime syndicates attacking our computers. Now the word often carries with it the threat of identity theft. Here, in its entirety, is an item from Publisher’s Lunch of 6 March:

Indigo Refuses to Pay Ransom; Employee Data May Be on Dark Web

Last week Indigo posted additional information to their website FAQ about their Feb. 8 cyberattack. The retailer notes that it will not pay the ransom. “The privacy commissioners do not believe that paying a ransom protects those whose data has been stolen, as there is no way to guarantee the deletion/protection of the data once the ransom is paid. Both US and Canadian law enforcement discourage organizations from paying a ransom as it rewards criminal activity and encourages others to engage in this activity,” they wrote. “Additionally, we cannot be assured that any ransom payment would not end up in the hands of terrorists or others on sanctions lists.”

Not paying the ransom is likely to result in the posting of stolen data: Current and former employee data was compromised in the attack and is expected to be shared. “We have been informed that the criminals responsible for this attack intend to make some or all of the data they have stolen available using the dark web as early as Thursday, March 2, 2023. We are continuing to work closely with the Canadian police services and the FBI in the United States in response to the attack.”

The company doesn’t know the identity of the attackers, but is aware that they used the ransomware software LockBit, noting “some criminal groups using LockBit are located in or affiliated with Russian organized crime.”

Current and former staff who were affected have been notified, and the company is providing two years of credit monitoring and identity theft protection to all employees. “At Indigo, our staff are at the very heart of our organization, and we take their privacy and security seriously,” they said. “We deeply regret this incident and are committed to ensuring employees have the support they need.”

Currently stores are accepting cash, credit, and gift card purchases, as well as returns. Customers can still only buy “select books” online, but can’t cancel orders or use discount codes. The Canadian Press reports that Indigo reached out to Shopify to help rebuild their site to resume online ordering.

Indigo seem to have overcome the problem in one way or another, and after a few days using Shopify, they are back in the online bookselling business.

Have we reached a point where we have to assume that our identities are inevitably going to be stolen? The computer and the internet arrived with so much potential benefit to society. I dare say human perception works quickly to take any benefits for granted, and almost immediately starts to focus on problems which may come along with these benefits. But when book manufacturers, book publishers and booksellers start getting hacked, can book readers be far behind?

From Green Apple Books in San Francisco, via Shelf Awareness.

Batch for Books, a British payment-consolidation service, was launched in the U.S. in 2020. The idea is that booksellers can pay all their publisher suppliers with a single payment, thus cutting down on the number of separate account-balloons they have to keep in the air. Batch claims to be active in eighty countries. However adoption levels in the US have been slow and just three US publishers are thus far using Batch: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Macmillan.* According to Shelf Awareness, “150-160 US booksellers are actively enrolled in the service, with some 25 more currently coming on, and more hoped for. ‘We need more bookstores and more publishers on board,’ Halter [Nathan Halter, Blast’s Program Manager] said. ‘It’s a challenge that we’re navigating.'” One English bookseller tells us that he pays 96% of his invoices through Batch, and spends just about one hour a week on the accounting task.

In America in 2022 Batch processed 222,000 individual invoices. Booksellers who use the service seem happy and are recommending it to others. Batch is free for bookstores who also save on administration and handling costs by paying all vendors with one weekly or monthly bank transfer. But having just three publishers, albeit large ones, signed on just isn’t enough: I dare say that the fact that the cost of the service is borne by the publishers may have something to do with this! Still, there are no doubt some efficiencies in having a single billing source, but if you’ve spent years fine-tuning an accounting system which works, you’re likely to be cautious about trashing it. Now if Batch could demonstrate reductions in delinquencies or late payments . . .


* But bear in mind, each of these three publishers carry out sales and distribution for many smaller publisher. For instance, PRH has over fifty client publishers whose bills are presumably being paid via Batch.

We should probably applaud this initiative to get more books into people’s homes. If we have to slip them in as home decorating props, that’s surely better than not. Pottery Barn offers you a selection of decorative books, which they seem to have acquired in the remainder market, maybe even, who knows, from Wonder Books. The Pottery Barn marketers encourage us thus: “Take your bookcase to new design heights with these color-grouped collections of modern hardcover books. Each pack measures one linear foot, so you can perfectly plan out your shelf space . . . All books are published 1980-present and include a variety of literary works, period novels and topical texts with light overall wear.” Scroll down and you’ll discover that they also offer “Dust Jacketed ColorPak Books”, “Paper-wrapped ColorPak Books”, “Modern ColorStak Book Sets”, “Modern Dust Jacket ColorStak Books”, and “Linenwrapped ColorPak Books”. What’s to stop you? You can get them in lots of different color schemes.

This collection of nine Linen-wrapped books with what amount to rather flimsy cloth chemise bindings, will set you back $349. If you care, you can find out what the books are when the parcel arrives. Why would anyone waste their time going into a bookshop? Actually lots of bookshops have been going in for that “mystery package” type of bookselling: What you are offered is a plain brown-paper-wrapped item — buy it and have the thrill of opening it up and seeing what you just got for your $25. I guess there are people out there who don’t care what they buy, just so long as they are seen to be buying smart stuff.

Do you keep that jute twine on though? It’s part of the design, and I think you’re meant to, though that’ll make reading the books even harder — but I don’t think that’s what you’re expected to do anyway. As Pottery Barn assures us when describing Paper-wrapped ColorPak Books, “This color-coordinated book collection serves as a chic design accent – a fun way for readers (and non-readers) to decorate their space.” Who can resist a chic design accent?