Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bookselling in Memphis

I have delayed writing on this, as it just seemed bad taste to do so, but since it has been in the paper and is thus no longer a "secret", I guess it is time.

Burke's Bookstore, that fine old establishment, is in trouble, financially. They recently sent a letter out to their client list asking for help and "cash donations". In the letter, they blame superstores, 9-11 and the internet for decreased sales.

Several things:

First, Corey and Cheryl are my friends and they have helped me immensely as I made the transition from financial planner to bookseller. I like them both personally and professionally, and think they have a great shop. I will not "bash" them or try to find fault with their business. I have all I can do trying to figure my own business out.

Bookselling is hard work. The image of the doddering old bookman who smokes a pipe and reads all day is as far from reality as one can get. Books are heavy, and dusty. They cost money, as does the rent, the utilities and the people to put them on the shelves. Many booksellers find themselves reading less than their customers.

Things have changed, no doubt about it. In the old days (defined as about 6-8 years ago), you bought a book, you priced it and put it on a shelf. If the customer wanted it, they bought it from you, or they did without. What has been great for the consumer has hurt the bookseller; the internet. If you want a copy of The Sun Also Rises, you can zoom over to and get you one, without ever leaving your chair.

Of course, by doing that, you do not see the "fictionalized biography" of the same period by Hemingway called A Movable Feast sitting next to it. You won't run across the book on tempera cooking sitting on display that would make the perfect gift for your mother-in law for her birthday next week, and you miss seeing the display of Hardy Boy's books that look just like the ones you read as a child, and wish your children would read. You miss all that, but, on the plus side, you don't have to get out of your chair.

We sell on the 'net, and it has been good for us, no way around it. And, if you need a specific book, it is hard to beat. But for browsing, for looking for "something to read", it is hard to beat your local bookshop.

Sad fact of the day: Memphis has 3 bookstores that stock used hardback books. 3. Nearly a million people in the area, and 3 stores to buy good used books.

Hey, do yourself a favor. Support your favorite bookstore, would ya? If you don't, one day there won't be any.

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