Sunday, August 12, 2012

The local bookstore you save must be your own

White Over Black by
Wintjrop Jrodan
Stories abound in the media including on this blog about the closing of beloved bookstores around the country, both corporate and independent. The most recent news that circulated widely in the media concerning African American books was Hue-Man Bookstore. the ten-year
old Black bookstore in Harlem which closed at the end of July.

Hue-Man opened its doors with an attractive range of titles by Black authors on its shelves; I remember my first visit to the store, seeing a deep selection of African world history titles, by Dr. ben Jochanan and J.A. Rogers, for instance, as well as titles by contemporary Black authors such as Benilde Little, Mary Monroe (no relation -- I don't think!) and Pearl Cleage.

Hue-Man's selecton was impressive, but increasingly trends in the bookselling business 
required more than just good books to sustain walk-in customers, ironically enough. Many
brick-and-mortars bookstores, including Hue-Man, adapted their marketing
strategies in order to increase walk-in traffic, or at least sustain their local and
devoted customer bases, which nonetheless were being drained by competitive online sellers.

The economic collapse that hit the U.S. in 2008 only steepened the slope that bookstores
(nearly all commercial entities) had to climb in order to survive, let alone thrive.

Independent bookstores adopted new strategies to sustain themselves: expanding their product
base, (products and/or adding eateries), hosting (more) author events, specializing in a
genre, even adding online selling, but like Hue-Man, many of these stores still closed
their doors.

So, what does it take in the current digital media environment for brick-and-mortar
bookstores to be able to serve their communities and be profitable?

A mix of the some of the strategies named above and as many as are effective in a local
community of readers. That's the other part, though--a community of readers has to be
committed to the bookstore culture. Readers have to want the bookstore culture, like the
bookstore culture, and be willing "to do bookstore culture," which means to take the walk or
15 minute ride to the store. Like we used to do and spend time and money there.

I am not chastising, but merely saying that the online selling industry has nearly
perfected the means that readers get books by delivering them directly to our doors. Can
it be that part of the answer to how bookstores survive is that readers collaborate with
many new ways to keep bookstore open, useful to the community and profitable?

In the last three weeks I have collaborated with a local bookstore, blackPrint Bookstore in New Haven, holding informal discussions around a civic curricula my sister and I created that has our group reading the U.S. Constitution and other founding documents of our country. Quite a rich discussion to have in a store filled with African-centered books and images. The discussion is enriched by the surroundings, and the events bring new visitors to the store and expand its branding as a venue for learning.

Holding a reading group in a bookstore, I know, is not new, but it is a way that I can commit to support my local bookstore, even as I pursue my own online bookselling.

The Huffington Post published an article that suggests 20+ ideas a bookstore/ community can
adopt to sustain its local bookstore, among them some very good ideas. Let me know, let
everyone know, if you recommend these to your local bookstore and if the store owners implement them, how things work out.

Revised July 11, 2013

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