Ten tables, ten minutes at each table. Around these tables sit my favorite people: Book lovers. But not just book lovers. Professional book lovers. Bookstore owners and staff, librarians. The people whose lives are about connecting readers with writers. On Monday I was one of those writers. It was Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s (PNBA) fall trade show, and I was invited to participate in what I thought of as a “literary speed dating” event but the organization called “Signature Dish.” Either way, it was a literary marathon. I had ten minutes to engage ten different groups of six to eight people, tell them about my book, A Grip of Time, and communicate my passion for the work. I didn’t just want them to order copies for their stores. I wanted them to care.
I was on my fourth table when I felt the need to re-caffeinate. I was on my sixth table when I guzzled two glasses of water to stave off a scratchy throat. I was on my seventh table when I worked up a sweat. I was on my ninth table when I forgot what I had just said. I was on my tenth table when I thought: Gee, it’s over already?
It was an exhausting. And I loved every moment.
And no I didn’t love every moment just because I got to talk about my work. Sure, there was that. But I loved yesterday evening’s event, and the trade show itself, because it was a celebration of the renewed health of Indie bookstores.
A few decades ago, independent bookstores were supposed to disappear, crushed by Barnes & Noble. A decade ago, independent bookstores were supposed to disappear, crushed by amazon. Ha.
Today it’s Barnes & Noble on the chopping block, part of the retail apocalypse currently blighting American malls. And while amazon, the world’s biggest retailer, commands 72 percent of adult new book sales online, and 49 percent of all new book sales, independent bookstores are doing just fine. In fact, better than fine.
According to a recent report from the American Booksellers Association (the national trade group for independent bookstores), the number of U.S. independent bookstores is up 31 percent since 2009. And book sales at independent bookstores grew nearly 7.5 percent over the past five years. The ABA itself has grown to 1,887 members in 2,524 locations.
Indies are part of the community, our communities. Here in the Northwest, where the PNBA is the regional trade group, Indies from Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho and Alaska are offering what amazon cannot: book clubs and author readings, themed evenings, conversation circles, kids’ events, music, a place to sit surrounded by books. Indies offer carefully curated selections with shelf tags to pique your interest and passionate, informed staff to make suggestions.
The folks who own and run and work in these stores love books. They love authors. And we love them back. All hail the Indies.
These stories are about the growth and health of independent bookstores, should you want to read more:
Lauren Kessler is an award-winning author, (semi-fearless) immersion reporter, blogger, biker, hiker, barre-fly, chicken-wrangler, wanna-be ballerina, quadruple Aries. Visit her website, laurenchronicles.com, and ask for her books, including her latest, A Grip of Time, at independent bookstores everywhere.