empty bookstores

i’ve been trying to pay closer attention to the publishing industry, lately, for obvious reasons. i get some newsletters and follow a few agents who blog, and the news is largely depressing, like the economic news nearly everywhere else. everything from publishers shrinking staff and cancelling book contracts at the last minute to independent bookstores closing left and right to chain stores like Borders in deep financial distress. obviously, all this impacts the likelihood of publishing houses to buy more titles, which impacts my ability to find an agent who thinks he or she can sell my book in this tightening market.

none of this is really news, though – tough times are everywhere – but i had somehow insulated myself from the direct personal reality of it. well, last friday evening, my wife and i were out grocery shopping and decided to stop by a local independent bookstore. my wife was looking for the first Charlaine Harris ‘Dead’ book and i was just looking for something light.

when we walked in, though, the shelves were so bare in this once-booming store that my wife asked if they were moving. of course, the answer was no, and that times were so lean that they hadn’t been able to make their regular new orders and were working largely on existing stock and any used books people brought in for resale.

we walked out with three books, but i was genuinely caught off guard by the whole experience, and despaired for the world. i was, however, reminded of Andrew Zack’s post in line with this. while the post is obviously overtly intended for writers, it was also, for me, another piece of evidence about the cheaper=better mentality that seems to have pervaded our society.

without going into a long diatribe about that whole topic, though (too late?), it all comes down to much the same basic point as Michael Burstein made at the end of the first half of the Future of Speculative Fiction Magazines panel at Readercon: if you want it, you have to pay for it.