Indie Bookstores in Decline

coverIn the Voice Literary Supplement, Paul Collins comes with an interesting article on the decline of the indie bookstore. He mentions Laura J. Miller’s new book, Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption, which sounds good:

Chain superstores, notes Laura J. Miller’s fascinating new study Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption (University of Chicago Press), are the latest manifestation of a centuries-old struggle between bookselling Davids and Goliaths—a battle over where Americans actually shop versus stores with, Miller tartly notes, "a style of retailing that Americans at least profess to miss." . . .

Before Borders and Barnes & Noble, the bête noire of bookshops was the department store. When Macy’s first opened its first book department in 1869, local bookstores found themselves besieged by the original big-box retailing: deep discounts, clueless clerks, and a fearlessly déclassé combination of non-book "notions" and bestsellers that left snobs sputtering . . . but delighted the masses.

"Within a decade," Miller’s study notes, "Macy’s was one of the largest book outlets in the country."

Other department stores followed. Through the middle of the 20th century, they controlled as much as half the book trade. Small book chains like Brentano’s and Doubleday also appeared. Then, as now, independent booksellers grumbled about sweetheart deals and the chains resolutely middlebrow taste. Additional competition from discount stores and grocers hardly helped. "[T]he ordinary book outlet must now compete with everything from delicatessens to whore houses," Miller quotes one miffed observer from 1954.

Still, independent bookstores survived—thrived, even. So what’s changed? First, one must follow the money.

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