Friday, July 17, 2009

Garrison Keillor Ruffles Some Feathers

Over at Norlight Lit Life, the blog of Northern Lights Bookstore, they take exception at a recent statement by cultural icon and fellow bookstore owner Garrison Keillor. They write, 'Oh Garrison, we love you but we hope you realize why people were justly upset with your comments of late. Comment one: Garrison Keillor commented that Common Good Books, St. Paul, Minn., which he opened in 2006, "is sort of slowly making its way. I don't know. It's not making money. Nobody makes money with bookstores."

It's the blanket of "nobody" that stands independent bookselling hair on end. It is certainly difficult to make money selling books. Living in 90% of the world today, you'll find difficulties making money in most businesses that don't revolve around oil, weapons, or governmental bailouts. This buys into the dangerous myth of the dying bookstore. Times are tough. Some great stores have closed their doors. Bookselling alone has brought few independent wealth. But to say that no one makes money on it, that we're non-profits without 501-c status rather than integral and innovative members of the business community — that's where we disagree. Most vociferously with the perpetuation of that myth that bookstores are a dead-end for business — the myth that big box stores and online warehouses would love to use as examples of us being quaint dinosaurs. The only way someone should mistake us for quaint dinosaurs is in hearing our roar combined with our impeccable customer service!'

This is an ongoing discussion in our office and elsewhere in the book world: is this popular story grounded in fact? Certainly, every business today is struggling — but does the closing of many bookstores indicate tough times or a pandemic demise? We'd love to hear what booksellers themselves have to say on this!

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