This recent piece in The Guardian laments the fact that independent booksellers are going out of business at an increasing rate. The blame lies with the fact that grocery stores and big-box retailers can offer books more cheaply, and online booksellers can offer a wider selection.
My first reaction upon reading this was sadness and outrage... and then guilt. I honestly can't remember the last time I bought a new book from an independent bookstore. This despite the fact that I'm as concerned as anyone about the ever-growing possibility that just a few behemoth booksellers could control the entire retail side of the publishing industry. It scares me to consider the power such a bookopoly could hold over which books and writers and ideas get published... and which ones don't.
There used to be three indie booksellers that I would check out when I was in their vicinity, but they've all closed their doors in the past few years. I do frequent an excellent used book store that's just a few blocks from my home, but for the most part I'm an online book shopper. It's not that I'm looking for deals, but I am often looking for more esoteric titles that I can't find in bricks-and-mortar locations. For example, a couple of my recent online purchases were Bharti Kirchner's Vegetarian Burgers and Martin Grainger's Woodsmen of the West. I spent a couple of weeks looking for these titles locally, and with no luck, not even at the big-box booksellers here in Vancouver. I had no choice, it seemed, but to go online.
Now that I've written all this, I'm chagrined to admit that I just remembered there's a small independent bookstore a block and a half from my house. I can't believe I forgot it existed, but in my defence it's... well, it's kind of grotty. The selection isn't great, particularly the fiction section, which is where I live, and the ambience could be better. I suppose I could have special-ordered my books through this bookstore and kept my business local. Do bookstores want us to do this? Or is it a huge pain in the ass? Can anyone out there answer this?
How else do we get around the fact that serious book lovers want more choices than merely current bestsellers? And given that many of us are indie-minded souls, how do we reconcile our need to acquire the books we want with our desire to help out small businesses? How do you do it?