The Future of Books and Bookstores

book_burning.jpgA friend sent me this story yesterday:

In a dramatic act of biblio-immolation to protest “society’s diminishing support for the printed word,” Tom Wayne staged a book burning in front of his bookstore, Prospero’s Books in Kansas City, Mo.

According to the Associated Press (via the Lawrence Journal-World), Wayne built what he called “the funeral pyre for thought in America today.” The blaze was extinguished by the fire department because Wayne did not have a permit, but he said he will obtain one and “envisions monthly bonfires until his supply–estimated at 20,000 books–is exhausted.”

Closer to home, Charlie Orr is closing his Minneapolis bookstore after 35 years. According to today’s StarTribune, he cites his age, the cost of rent, and competition from big-box stores and the Internet as among the reasons for closing.

Orr told the paper that he’d miss the “camaraderie of people coming by, meeting their friends here and talking. I’m just not sure that small bookstores can do what they used to do: be neat places that people develop an emotional relationship with.”

6 thoughts on “The Future of Books and Bookstores”

  1. It’s amazing Orr survived 35 years in the shadow of Borders. He outlasted Odegaards and Borders, not bad for a little indy. I tip my hat to Charlie. I think the book burning is a publicity stunt.

    The landscape of bookselling has changed dramatically. In the Twin Cities, the large independents like Baxters, Odegaards, Ruminator and Bound to be Read are gone. The small independents, Micawbers, Birchbark, and Keillor have replaced them.

    I think bookstores have to be dynamic to survive. They need to offer great value; price, selection and service. The internet is big part of the equation. Bookstores need to be that third place where people gather and discuss books. The book is a great invention, 500 years later and little has changed, words on a page.

    The bottom line is if we want bookstores, independent bookstores, to survive, they need paying customers.

  2. Jerry:

    You brought up something that caught my attention in Charlie’s quote, the reference to the “third place”. When we lose independent bookstores, we not only lose choices and options for reading material but we lose those third places to gather and talk.

    The Green Dragon Tavern is being closed down, the Liberty Tree is being cut down, and Orr’s Bookstore is closing…

    Shop Local,

    Ross

  3. I loved Charlie’s bookstore in Uptown. I still have a crochetted green frog either he or his mom made and sold there.

  4. A fellow bookseller just sent me this. He found it on a bookmark from the early 1900s. I think it still holds up.

    “You may have overlooked the dignity of the bookseller’s calling. The
    bookseller is the indispensable link between the productive brain and the
    eager mind.
    Encourage him. Haunt his store. Ask him questions. Buy his books.
    If a book is advertised or reviewed he has it.
    Sometimes it may happen that he will have to send for it, but he will do it
    gladly and probably can procure it more promptly than if you send to distant
    centres or direct to the publisher with whom you have no account.
    Help to make the bookstore the intellectual centre of your town, and
    auxiliary to your schools and colleges, a supplement to your lecture
    courses.
    We speak reverently of the old-time bookseller, but the best present-day
    booksellers are just as good book men and much better business men.”

  5. On the other hand, the Bookhouse in Dinkytown remains and thrives! Instead of bookburning to protest “society’s diminishing support for the printed word,” couldn’t we just get to the root and burn TVs? I guess you’d not only have a fire permit violation, but serious toxic emissions almost equal to the toxic programming. But bottom line is we’ve got to support our local independent businesses and keep away from these chains, and we’ve got to support funding education to revive the art of critical thinking (gasp!). It’s connected, the drive for drivel and our flabby atrophied brains.

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