The Passive Voice blog linked to an article about the Strand bookstore in New York City, and it reminded me of my own trip there. I was fortunate enough to go there in May. My friends and I were in Greenwich Village most of the day, and they decided to spend some time in Washington Square Park. While they soaked in the sunshine, I went over to the Strand.
Growing up, I was used to Barnes and Noble, living in the suburban Hampton Roads, Virginia. A bland chain, no different than the Wal-Marts or Home Depots around it. Now that I live in rural Maryland, the only bookstores nearby is a small independent store that stocks mostly bestsellers, as well as a higher end used bookstore. I wasn’t used to the kind of selection the Strand offers. When I entered, the place was densely packed. The shelves nearly reached the ceiling. I was amazed! I immediately gravitated to the history section. Often times, books written in niche subject areas go out of print quickly, especially in topics I’m interested in (‘small’ wars and unit histories). When I entered the store, I had some books in mind that I wanted to get, but I wasn’t set on anything in particular. By the time I left, I hadn’t even browsed the full store and I came away with a history of the French Foreign Legion, a collection of Franz Kafka, and Death on the Installment Plan by L.F. Celine (read my review here).
My experience in the Strand is why I love bookstores. Often, I don’t even really know what I want until I find it. The Strand is somewhat different than Barnes and Noble or the old Borders, however. Strand tries to be a ‘complete’ bookstore, deals in antiquarian books, and buys used books. B&N is good for picking up a recent novel or major bestselling author, but not so much for a history of the South African Border War.
B&N going out of business may be a good thing, both for the traditional publishing industry and retail book sellers. If the chain were to go out of business (I believe, and I could be proven wrong this is a matter of when) it might serve as a wake up call to the New York publishing world. Amazon has offered a consistently better service, not only for the customer but also for authors. I have always loved Amazon’s massive stock of books on any topic, and the ‘Customers Also Bought’ section has made me discover other great books. I’m also learning that the Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space tools are easy to pick up and make a quality package, saving the frustration of waiting for months for a literary agent or publisher to send you a form rejection.
As much as I love Amazon, I would be sad to see bookstores disappear. If B&N goes under, indie bookshops may fill the void; however, the economy being the way it is, this may take years. But when all is said and done, the new shops to emerge from the ashes of the big chains can become far better at catering to the tastes of their community as well as opening up their shelves to indie authors, something that is not available in the big chains.
The future, I think, is bright with the new world of publishing. Amazon can co-exist alongside small book shops, much like traditional publishing will co-exist (likely in diminished form) alongside self-publishing. Amazon is already experimenting with this dual approach, having their traditional publishing division as well as KDP and CreateSpace. It’s an exciting time in publishing, and an exciting time to be an author. I just hope independent bookstores aren’t a casualty.