Profiles in Courage: Chats with independent bookstore owners, Part IV
[What do typesetters, shepherds, and independent bookstore owners have in common? That's not the setup for a bad joke – just a recognition that many traditional professions are under pressure these days, not the least of them the business of owning and operating your own bookstore. Facing the pressures of heavy competition from chains with deep pockets, a hesitant economy, and – most recently – assault from the likes of Kindle and the iPad, it is perhaps not surprising that membership in the American Booksellers Association has dropped almost 50 percent over the past 10 years (from about 2,700 members in 2000 to about 1,400 today). Over the course of the summer, the Monitor will be checking in with some of America's most beloved neighborhood booksellers to see how they are surviving or – occasionally – even thriving, in difficult times.]Skip to next paragraph
End to an era at legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company
'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' film rights acquired by Universal
Better World Books' bestseller list: more classics than new titles
More books, more choices: why America needs its indies
Is Slate's Amazon-defending blogger really a 'moron'?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Tom Holbrook opened RiverRun Books in Portsmouth, N.H., in 2002. At the time, the town was in the midst of a revival. Downtown real estate prices were heading up as baby boomers and others were finding the small city a great place to live and shop. The Civil War-era music hall around the corner was reopening as a live concert and lecture venue. An independent bookstore seemed a natural fit. Holbrook took a few moments to talk with Monitor books editor Marjorie Kehe about his eight years in the business.
Q. The economic landscape has changed a bit since you opened your store in 2002. Would you do it again?
A. Oh yes, and I’d make almost all the same decisions. I chose 2007 to take out a large loan and buy out my business partner. Perfect reasoning – until 2008 hit. What we’ve seen is that all the screwups on Wall Street have tightened up credit on Main Street. I’m happy that the local banks have come out of this as well as they have, but they’ve come out of it very very conservatively.
The single thing hurting me most now is lack of credit, because it makes it hard for me to have the books in the store that I need to sell. The second thing hurting me is not e-readers. It’s Amazon, which is a horrible monster and not the publishers’ friend – although publishers haven’t figured that out yet. Amazon is China – in other words, at some point they’re going to turn around to the publishers and say, “You know, we have all your business and we don’t like this discounting and you have to change it.”
They’re 15 percent of the business – at least. To me, that’s a bigger problem than the e-readers. Because e-readers are about who’s buying books where. We’ve always had the struggle of, do you come downtown to buy your books or do you go to the mall and buy your books? Now there’s a third leg: Do you stay home and buy your books from Steve Jobs?