A number of indie bookstores have been hosting community discussions about recent and dramatic changes in the book industry, including the Borders bookstore closings and the growing popularity of e-books. Last week, Diesel, A Bookstore invited customers to its Oakland location for a “community dialogue about the worth, and the future, of independent bookstores….”
“The customer support was strong and heartfelt,” said Diesel co-owner John Evans of the April 27 evening event, which drew 45 people to the store. “Nearly everyone spoke, engaging with passion, thoughtfulness, and articulateness, the issues of the day. The meeting lasted about two hours, with hands up the whole time and could’ve gone longer.”
After the store’s introduction of the issues – the closing of many retailers in Berkeley and the greater Bay Area in addition to the Borders closures, and the dangers of the economy, of Amazon and other mass merchants, and of changing patterns of reading – there was a constant flow of questions, suggestions, ideas, and testimonies. “It was one of those special, magical events independent bookstores somehow catalyze, where everyone is so intelligently and fully present and listening to each other,” Evans said. Participants included customers, booksellers, a journalist, a librarian, and a book distributor.
The program featured an explanation of how to buy e-books directly from the Diesel website, which noted that e-books were the same price as on other retailers’ sites. Also discussed were California’s economic state, ideas for strengthening the local economy, partnerships with other businesses, and sales tax fairness.
Evans said that customers talked about how their reading habits have changed in response to economic circumstances, including more library use and fewer purchases of new books. While customers might be buying less, he noted they still very much want to help promote and support indie bookstores. “They suggested that trade organizations, regionally and nationally, should promote price parity and e-book availability so that it ‘goes viral,’” Evans said.
Diesel has already begun to act on some of the concepts that came up during the community dialogue. “We have rushed to L.A. to the L.A. Times Book Festival this weekend, which is an implementation of all of the ideas in its own way,” said Evans. “We will be taking our ideas to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association and the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association. Mobilizing passionate readers to help to spread the word is definitely on the map.”
Some of the community’s suggestions had already been in the works. “We already had planned an e-book seminar in the store for next Wednesday,” Evans explained. “We had QR codes on our staff recommends already in place for the community meeting, and they’ll be further explained at the e-book seminar.”
As at other recent community discussions at bookstores, including R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut, and Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, booksellers didn’t know what to expect. “We had been anxious about what the responses would be, but were amazed by the strength of the commitment, thoughtfulness, and downright decency” of the participants, said Evans. “Having our fellow booksellers and other professional associates present and participating was an added boon that rounded out the evening.”
Because the event could have gone longer, Evans is thinking of continuing the community discussion at another meeting sometime in the future.