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Building a Community … At What Expense?

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A few weeks ago there was a discussion on the PMA-L listserv site which
caused me to reflect upon a process that has been developing over the past
few years … bookstores becoming more than places of sales, but becoming
actual community gathering spots where people linger, read, chat, and eat.

On the surface, this seems ideal. In fact, as I write this article I have
very mixed emotions and really no answers or solutions. When I was raising my
young children and did not have lots of money to purchase books, I would
bring them to The Tides bookstore in Sausalito, where we would spend hours
looking at the latest titles (and maybe even end up buying a book, if we had
the cash). But most times we just looked and enjoyed. My boys were too noisy
for libraries at that time (you can see how long ago that was since no
talking was allowed then in libraries except in whispers). Therefore we went
to our friendly, local bookstore.

Today, with the superstore structure of multi-leveled stores, restaurants
within them, designated children’s areas, etc., many PMA members are seeing
lots of damage occur to their titles that can be directly traced to the
bookstores and not the distributor or wholesaler. As one person commented,”I’m tired of having to accept returns with coffee cup rings embedded into
the front cover of my title and having to give full credit for this type of
return.” Another publisher echoed this sentiment with, “I’m tired of getting
my picture books back with pages stuck together.” One publisher even found a
lollipop gluing the pages together!

We all want our books to be admired. We all want to send information to the
masses. We all want readers … and buyers. So here’s the question. Do we
want to allow bookstores to use our unpaid for merchandise to attract the
type of customers to their stores who damage product but do not buy it? I’m
sure we would all answer an emphatic “No” to that question.

Do you think that if bookstores paid for the merchandise in advance that they
would allow the amount of eating, drinking, browsing, and enjoying of unpaid
product that is currently occurring to be the norm? I don’t know the answer
to that question. However I do notice that in many retail outlets where
proprietors have to pay for the merchandise within the store, you see signs
stating “No Food or Drink Allowed.”

Audiobooks, CDs, and videos can be previewed by a demo. But demos cost money
to develop and they can be more easily produced for these types of product
than for a book. An answer would be shrink-wrapping all the books and the
development of a “dummy” for bookstore display purposes only. However we all
know that the shrink-wrap can be easily removed and that this is not a
realistic solution. But for those publishers who are in the bookstores, the
type of damage described above is becoming an increasingly difficult problem
with little solution in sight.

Can we, as a group, begin developing solutions? I’d like to hear your
thoughts on this matter. Write me a logical solution to the bookstore
community environment which has been growing (and which I applaud, since it’s
bringing more people into the stores to view our product). The solution may
not be simple. It may not be quickly arrived at. But I believe that with all
of our creative minds working on this, we can develop some workable solutions
which I’d like to share with our members in a future column.

The impoverished, working mom that I was so many years ago appreciated The
Tides in Sausalito more than that bookstore can ever imagine. But if my kids
(or I) damaged a book, I would have felt compelled to purchase it … money
or no money!

Warm holiday wishes to all from the PMA Board of Directors and the PMA Staff!

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