M is for Mystery--the independent mystery bookstore that has been a bastion for readers and writers of mysteries for over a decade--began its fire sale last week. It now joins the ranks of those small independent bookstores that have closed their doors. This time around it doesn't seem to be a financial blow to the solar plexus as a result of the e-revolution or the discount revolution. Ed Kaufman is retiring. He sent out smoke signals about six months ago that he was ready to hang it up and did anyone want to buy the store. Would that I had that chunk of change. Talk about a dream come true. Sadly, I've got one kidlet still in college and another heading out for college next year and all extra cash (and then some!) is being funneled into tuition dollars. As no one in the mystery community stepped up to the plate, finally he sold the store to someone who is going the used book, antiquarian route.
It was telling that at the joint MWA/SINC Holiday party at the store yesterday the new owner didn't even step up to the mike to say hello to the local mystery community. I knew at least half of the people in the room; most of them were local writers. That the new owner didn't even feel compelled to say hello to us said to me that we won't have a role in his vision for the new store. Well, that's his right, and I'm not trashing him for that. It's just, well, sad. And it's chilling for people like me: writers with a limited market whose limited market happens to be mystery aficionados. The elimination of yet another mystery bookstore (Kate's in Massachusetts--another venerable institution for mystery readers and writers--closed last year) is another lost opportunity for marketing in a market that is shrinking as I type.
And as much I think that the e-revolution is here to stay, I will say unequivocally that browsing the shelves of a bookstore is not the same as browsing the net. Ed was having a 50% off sale, and, um, I went a little wild. I bought a ton of books that I'd actually seen ballyhooed on amazon but wasn't wowed by, but in the store reading a page here, a page there, I was hooked. I bought eight books. Granted, they were 50% off, but even if they had been 50% off on amazon, I STILL wouldn't have bought them. They didn't jump out at me. On a bookshelf, their covers were much brighter and shinier, and I could thumb through the book at random (not read an excerpt that is chosen for me).
That is the big difference here. I like the physical feel of a book, but I also love the ease of picking up an e-reader. Both have pluses as reads. But in terms of sales, I tend to buy lots in stores and when I purchase books online for my Kobo, I buy ONE book. Because browsing the compiled lists touted by amazon or Barnes and Noble is limited. It's always the books from the big publishers that are being pushed, never the small book that could delight. Sometimes you want the blockbuster and sometimes, damn it, you want to be delighted.
Anyway, this is yet another sad footnote in how the world of reading is changing. Thank you, Ed. As a reader I appreciate the love and dedication you put into your store, and as a writer? Ditto.