On Jan 31, 2011, The Mystery Bookstore closed its doors after 23 years with a final goodbye to its faithful customers and readers alike. The huge soiree was hosted by Linda Brown, Bobby McCue and other staff in what must have been an emotionally wrenching, and in many ways bittersweet, event for them. The place was packed, with the likes of writers Michael Connelly, Gary Phillips, Christopher Rice, Lee Goldberg, Dianne Emley, and Naomi Hirahara in attendance. I talked about The Mystery Bookstore in one of my previous posts. In a message to its patrons and authors on January 11, 2011, The Mystery Bookstore said,
Unfortunately, we, too, are going the way of too many independent bookstores. We simply cannot compete with the Amazons of the world and the impact of the economy.
So what happens to other brick-and-mortar indie bookstores, particularly the ones I care most about, the mystery bookstores? I don’t dare breathe. There are the wider questions too: where is publishing going? What happens to the publishers, bookstores, readers and writers in this age of e-books? How should each of those elements change?
Print publishers: do they start to vanish over the decades to come? Some people think so, but many don’t see how it’s even possible. It can be a clunky process, this taking a book from its first draft to a polished printed product, but then so is movie-making. No one suggests abolishing the film making process, even though film delivery is changing. So maybe that’s the key: publishing should remain an art form (maybe tweaked here and there the way filming and cameras have evolved) as the delivery of the book morphs. How fast can or should publishers adjust, and in which direction exactly?
Bookstores: if we can get books delivered to us electronically, should we care about these brick-and-mortar structures? Indies are in peril, and even giants like Borders and B&N are staggering like creatures in the throes. Are we so busy these days checking our emails, tweets, texts, IM’s on our smart phones, tablets and other multi-function devices that we can no longer spend an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon browsing at a bookstore? Will we soon no longer see airport bookshops where we can quickly dive in and grab a book of just the perfect length to read on the plane? Oh, I forgot, there’s always on-board entertainment.
Readers: is it unimportant how you get the reading product as long as you can get it? If bookstores die and you still get your books, is that all that really matters in the end? Maybe so, I don’t know. It’s a similar philosophical question to what human contact is. If I can get my message to someone by texting him or her, then why do I need the silly sidewalk cafe meeting place? We don’t need to meet at all. Another convenient shortcut. Or is it?
And writers? What should we do? Quite frankly, I’m not really sure. The bottom line is we want readers to read our creations. Does it matter in what form or format they do that? Authors here and there have been talking about the success they have had with self-pubbing their works electronically, but those are the standout stories, the exceptions. Just because there’s e-publishing now doesn’t guarantee some kind of raging hit that didn’t occur with a writer’s printed book. Mid-list authors and below are the ones who have the biggest dilemma. Highly paid authors – James Patterson and his ilk – are quite comfortable, thank you very much, with the 80-20 rule (or whatever it is) – 80% of the money going to 20% of the authors who have blockbuster print books. Some writers like to think that e-publishing is a way to get back at “imperialist” print publishers, but I don’t think it will work that way for a sizable majority of authors.
So what do you all think? I’d love to hear your ideas and opinions about reading, writing, and publishing in the 21st century. Respond to this post simply by answering the email, and I’ll anonymously post your responses on a separate blog, or you can tweet a response or FB it. Ciao till next time