The Bookshelf War
May 15, 2014 | by Brian Short
This is an article from the Spring 2014 issue of LSA Magazine. To read more stories like this, click here.
It's not news. Many bookstores are struggling.
Experts point to two major reasons for the decline of local bookstores. The first is readers’ steadily decreasing appetite for printed books. The other is Amazon.com.
Amazon, whose net sales amounted to nearly $75 billion in 2013, is a global powerhouse. Now the company is publishing its own literary novels and short-story collections through a collaboration between Amazon’s Little A imprint and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s New Harvest imprint. Not surprisingly, many bookstores see Amazon as their main competition and refuse to stock Little A’s books. For author and LSA lecturer Kodi Scheer (M.F.A. ’08), whose short-story collection Incendiary Girls debuted last April from Little A and New Harvest, the news that some independent bookstores in Ann Arbor wouldn’t carry the book was disappointing.
“I’ll be honest,” Scheer says, “there were some tears. But I know it’s not personal. It’s not about me.”
Independent bookstores account for around 10 percent of all book sales; Amazon accounts for 29 percent, according to the American Booksellers Association. The Cold War between the two groups doesn’t seem like it will end any time soon, as they each vie for more market share.
Scheer is part of an entire generation (one of the last) of writers who grew up with bookstores and libraries as their primary source for reading material.
“It was such a treat, going to the bookstore. My mother took me once a month, and that’s how I discovered new books. On the shelves.”
While Scheer’s book won’t be on as many brick-and-mortar store shelves, she will have the resources and support of the largest bookseller on the planet behind her.
“I hope that Amazon’s reach will be able to find me new readers and that that will outweigh the challenges of not having the physical book in many bookstores.”
One early bit of good news, though — Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Scheer’s childhood bookstore, will carry her collection, where readers can encounter it right there on the shelf, exactly where Scheer had always hoped it would be.
To read more stories from LSA Magazine, click here.
Photo credit: Sarah Kriner/Getty Images.
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