Sunday, January 11, 2009

They're Dropping Like Flies

I saw the ad in this morning’s paper: GOING OUT OF BUSINESS. I suppose we may expect to see a lot more of that in the coming months, but this closing was especially hard for me to take. The last independent bookstore on Hilton Head Island is shutting its doors.

When we first moved here there were three: Authors, Port Royal Bookstore, and Island Bookseller. One by one over the past fourteen years they’ve succumbed to the kinds of pressures that are being felt by other independents around the country. It’s always easy to blame the chains; and, to be fair, the arrival of Barnes & Noble certainly had an impact. But I think the Internet has had as much or more to do with the demise of these small businesses as anything else.

I’m astounded at how cheaply sells books. New ones, mine included. Combine a couple of purchases, and even the freight is free. I joke a lot about writing’s being a profession you can conduct in your pajamas. Shopping has acquired the same convenience. Punch a few buttons, enter your credit card number, and wait for your purchases to show up on your front porch. And, as I said, it’s hard to argue with the price.

The Web has also made it simple to be a used book shopper, and the costs are even lower. It’s a great tool for finding out-of-print titles, but more and more people are opting for a used copy in good condition in preference to buying a new edition of a current book. This hurts not only the local bookstore but the author and publisher as well. But again it’s that convenience factor that has more and more people shopping from their chairs and looking for a good deal. And in these times of economic turmoil, it’s certainly understandable.

I know we’ve all heard this song before: Support your local bookstore. I also know many of us, especially writers, do just that. But sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, bookstores close. I feel as if I’ve lost a trusted friend. It’s sad. But I’m afraid we’re going to have to get used to it.

Kathy Wall grew up in a small town in northern Ohio. She and her husband Norman have lived on Hilton Head Island since 1994. Her 9th Bay Tanner mystery, Covenant Hall, will be released April 28 by St. Martin’s Press.

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