The SIBA trade show was not only interesting professionally, it was a lot of fun. My favorite part was the flash mob twist on Sunday morning!
Talking with bookstore owners there, I found confirmation for my own observations, based on a busy year of doing readings for the three books I published this past year. I visited some fairly new stores, such as Union Ave (Knoxville), I Love Books (Kingsport, TN), and Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill). I visited some venerable stores in attractive new settings, such as Morris Books (Lexington, KY) and the Flying Pig (Shelburne, VT). And I visited some long-established stores, such as Malaprop’s (Asheville), Quail Ridge (Raleigh), and McIntyre’s (Pittsboro, NC). Before setting out, I had read nothing but gloom and doom in book trade publications and the national media. But on my travels I discovered that the bookstores I was visiting were not only alive, they were thriving. Many served as focal points for their communities, where book clubs and other groups met and a steady stream of writers spoke.
Although a number of stores have, of course, closed due to competition from ebooks, online retailers, and the chains, those that have survived appear to be settling into a new role and doing well at it. Recently I read that over a hundred new bookstores have opened since 2008, and that independents have been maintaining their market share. At the SIBA conference Jamie Fiocco of Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill) attributed this, at least partially, to the “buy locally” movement across the country that is encouraging people to funnel their money back into their own communities by supporting local independent businesses.
In sum, this confirmation from talking to folks at SIBA of what I had observed for myself on the road has really forced me to think about the gap between the lived reality of bookselling in this country, up against the relentlessly negative portrait painted by the media. I don’t know why this gap exists, only that it does – and needs to be challenged.
Many thanks to Wanda and the SIBA staff and members for such an enlightening and entertaining weekend!
—- Lisa Alther