I’m one of those people that has a “membership” to a chained bookstore. I suckered myself into the deal, knowing full well that I really wasn’t going to be benefiting from it, but felt more like a pushover that day and just said yes. You know the type of deal, for $25 a year you can save 30% blah, blah, blah. I do read a lot, so I figured that I would save enough over the long term to see a return on it. This is where I went wrong.
There are two major issues that I have with big named, chain bookstores: the first is that horror doesn’t generally have it’s own dedicated section. I have to sift through shelves of mainstream fiction or science fiction/fantasy to get to the good stuff. Trying to randomly come across one copy of a good horror is tough to do, truly negating the purpose of browsing by hiding these gems deep in their racks. For example, Ring by Koji Suzuki had one copy at my local store, sandwiched between massive waves of the “right now” popular books. It was a blessing that I was able to rescue it.
The second problem is an extension of the first. Take the photo below as an example. As popular as Mr. Stephen King is, this is what we find in the “K” section in fiction. Not to diminish his personal accomplishments or the quality of his writing, but this takes away any shelf space from other writers blessed with their last name starting with “K”. Names like: Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, Caitlin Kiernan, Brian Kirk, Gwendolyn Kiste, and Daniel Kraus. Never mind how Dean Koontz has about half a stack to himself, taking even more real estate away from the amazing work that is being released.
I’m not here to argue against King being the Master of Horror, because he is. He is arguably one of the very few that brought horror into and beyond the Golden Age of the 1980s and early ’90s. But literature is about voice. Old voices, new voices, all voices. How can we celebrate new work by new writers when box stores do stuff like this? How do we embrace horror writers (or from any genre) that are female or POC? How can the minority voice, arguably the most important voice (even if it is still systematically muted), succeed or flourish in this kind of environment?
Enter the independent bookstore, the used bookstore, the places where obscurity thrives. I’m just as guilty as everybody else, it’s easier to go to the chain instead of finding the independent store, or even easier, online to the monster that is Amazon.
Independent stores struggle in a world dominated by ease and affordability. If Amazon drops their prices on a book, it’s not a big deal to them. Not even a drop in the sea. If an independent store drops their price on a book, it hurts. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been in business or what their customer base is. Consumers simply decide to support Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Books a Million because it’s a better deal for them. A great example of this is the book store, Dark Delicacies, located in Burbank, CA. A bookstore that specializes in horror and dark fiction. After 25 years in business, rising rent prices nearly forced them to close. The LA Times did a wonderful article on how it was saved by resorting to crowdfunding.
Independent stores need to be saved. Genre fiction needs to be supported. The minority and independent artist needs your support. It’s doesn’t matter where you are. Take the time to find your local bookstore and give them your business. We are all at fault, there is no innocent person here (unless you own a bookstore).
Just remember, Jeff Bezos doesn’t need another yacht on our dime.