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Archive for June 23rd, 2009:

Re-Imagine Bookstores, Too?

posted June 23, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in Bookselling books

It seems impossible that Shaman Drum Bookshop, which has been a part of the cultural/intellectual lifeblood of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for nearly 30 years, is closing its doors on June 30. Just as it seemed impossible a year ago that Cody’s Books, that legendary Berkeley institution, was really disappearing off the map. How is it that two such esteemed and longstanding independent bookstores, proximate as they were to two of the world’s most prestigious public universities (and all of the students, professors, and inordinately literate citizens who circulate through and surround them), could be rendered unsustainable?

From the backside: 
“We feel that a good bookshop
[like a shaman drum]
is another way of facilitating a change of consciousness.”

When Cody’s closed last June, Andy Ross, who owned the store from 1977 until 2006, recalled that when Cody’s was thriving (through the end of the 1980s), independent stores claimed 40 to 50 percent of the bookselling market; in the new era of Barnes and Noble and Amazon hegemony, however, the independents are down to about 3 percent. In An Open Letter from a Distressed Bookseller, issued in February, Shaman Drum owner Karl Pohrt explained that in an already unstable economic climate, the nail in the coffin for his bookstore came with the steep decline in textbook sales that resulted from a change last fall in university policy (requiring professors to post textbook ISBNs online a month before the start of classes, thus driving sales to online retailers). Even so, Pohrt acknowledged, “It has been clear to me for a while now that the current model doesn’t work.” As such, he concluded, “The question then becomes: What is the next version of a bookstore?”

After June 30 Pohrt will continue to promote literary discourse in Ann Arbor through the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center (GLLAC), a fledgling nonprofit (originally conceived as an outgrowth of Shaman Drum) that plans to provide a public forum for author readings, panel discussions, writing workshops, and other nonelectronic gatherings of people who are passionate about good writing.  As Carolyn Kellogg pointed out in her Jacket Copy post, however, even if the GLLAC fares well, “it still leaves the question of what role bookstores play in our communities today–and tomorrow.”  Looking ahead, Kellogg wondered, “Will our future literary lives be split between buying books online and hanging out at the local literary nonprofit?”