Bookselling in the 21st Century: There Will Always Be Bookstores

“‘Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community.’ These impassioned words, from late bookseller David Schwartz, adorn a broadside hanging beside my front door—the last thing I see each day as I venture onward from my home.

I’ve had the good fortune to serve as a bookseller for over a decade, which, perhaps like so many worthwhile undertakings, began at the confluence of happenstance and serendipity. Despite being an avid and lifelong reader, the notion of a career in bookselling had, quite frankly, never occurred to me. Some eleven years in, however, I have an increasingly arduous time imagining a more suitable occupation. Contained within Schwartz’s sentiment is the raison d’être for why I, and presumably so many other ardent admirers of all things book, continue on in our chosen vocation.

Seven or eight years ago, we endured the near-constant bombardment of gloomy prognostications portending the slow, agonizing demise of bookselling as we knew it. We were told (and encouraged to believe) that our once-flourishing trade was experiencing the incipient stages of death throes similarly suffered by the recording industry. The advent of e-readers, online commerce, declining readership, fewer author tours, and the like were but a few of the myriad reasons cited for the inevitable dissolution of brick and mortar bookselling. The dread was palpable, the fear quite real, and hopes of salvation few and far between. Yet time, ever the great temperer of panic, worry, and overreaction, proved, in the always prescient and prudent words of Mark Twain, ‘The reports of [our] death have been greatly exaggerated.'”

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