EXTRA ETHER: Bookstore Bake Sale

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Why do all the ladies of my parish bake cupcakes once a month and sell them to each other?

That line, from John Updike’s The Centaur, came back into my preacher’s kid head as I read a post by one of my fellow contributors to Writer Unboxed.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Sarah Callender

The writer Sarah Callender (good hat) was coming awfully clean. She wrote:

I have bought many, many books on Amazon. Please know my head is low and my cheeks are red as I admit this to you.

This, as a confessional, sits well beside such soul-searing lines as I used to hear congregations belt out in chancel-flattening unison:

We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

Told you I was a minister’s son. That’s actually from the Book of Common Prayer. Episcopalian, not Methodist. I’d say Daddy was catholic in these matters, but that confuses people who don’t know Catholic from catholic.

[blackbirdpie id=”235127474244165632″]


Let’s try it. Will you take the beat from me?

We have taken advantage of free shipping with Amazon Prime; we have wallowed in history’s best customer service and algorithmically low-balled prices, while partaking of the luscious fruit of fabulous searchability and nearly instant downloads onto our Kindles; we have ordered those things we didn’t need instead of the portable prayer-kneelers we should have been paying $3.99 to have shipped overnight, same-day availability in certain areas.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave MorrisCallender’s post, headlined Imagine Saving a Life: An Indie Bookstore Pledge, is inspired, it seems, by a near-missionary zeal for drawing a line between rightful behavior and patronage of Amazon.

She declares her willingness to “do my part to save the lives of independent bookstores.” And, in what I believe is a completely genuine statement of hope, she wants us all to do the same.

So will you, too, make a pledge to buy one book per month from an indie bookstore? AND will you convince someone else to do the same? If you do that, and if your friends convince their family and friends to do the same, and so on and so on, we will pump enough life into the independent bookstores that are the lifeblood of our community.

Callender’s article was coming out just as we published Writing on the Ether with Peter Turner’s post-Kepler’s 2020 symposium.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Peter Turner

Turner headlined his post The Future of the End of Bookstores. In it, this longtime staunch ally of bookstores wrote of how he’s “discouraged, depressed actually, by the lack of innovative thinking” among bookstore people.

Immediately, Turner had blow-darted the Amazon-as-bogeyman approach so many well-intentioned bookstore lovers, like Callender, seem to think is correct.


The general attitude among indie booksellers is to do whatever they can to discourage their customers from buying e-books from Amazon.

[blackbirdpie id=”235061284238946304″]


And here was Callender:

I understood that in getting lazy and cheap in my book buying, I had forgotten the magic of a bookstore. My children had forgotten it too. Shame on me.

Another thing ministers’ kids can spot around a corner: guilt.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave MorrisGuilt is one slippery weapon in the arsenal of the righteous. It tends to blow up in the faces of the faithful. Scriptural soot. All over the place. Here is Skipper Hammond, who left a comment on Callender’s Writer Unboxed post:

Dare I say (whisper)? Don’t guilt trip me. I’m too ornery to take a pledge. Too blind to read books that don’t have enlargeable type. Too crowded in my little house to build any more bookshelves. Too poor to support every worthy cause. I never bought from Amazon until my daughter gave me a Kindle and I look forward to the day when I can buy books for it at an independent bookstore. Until then, Don’t guilt trip me.

Callender handled this comment graciously:

Yes, ma’am! Sorry to offend. I, too, look forward to the day when ebooks are available at indie bookstores. I hope that day’s not too far in the future. The enlargeable font really is a blessing!

And most folks commenting on Callender’s post dutifully promised to buy their one book per month from an independent bookstore.

[blackbirdpie id=”233987181251817472″]


I don’t doubt that Callender does mean well. She offers three reasons she feels bookstores’ “lives,” as she puts it, are worth “saving,” and she fleshes out each of these points:

  1. Bookstores facilitate a more connected community.
  2. Bookstores add personality and color to a community.
  3. Bookstores are incubators (of creative effort and of readers)

Daddy might have liked that list, actually. Sounds like several of the ways he always enjoyed describing the place of a good church in the community.

But gosh. How simplistic it is to speak in these blandishments. Just take the first point, the “more connected community.” Good-hearted Callender writes cheerily:

Bookstores do much more than sell books. These days they have to.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Victoria Noe

The other side of that? Victoria Noe, a businesswoman and writer, in a Facebook conversation with several of us reflects the way doing “much more than sell books” can actually be a sign of a business that’s erring and straying from its way:

It’s not enough to say “indie bookstores/brick & mortar stores” should survive. Every business ultimately has to fill a need in order to survive. The best ones create a new need in their customers.

How many of these stores have created a new need as the world changed and the digital dynamic picked up the pace around us?


Turner also wrote of the bookstores-doing-many-things tactic when he came away from the ambitious Kepler’s program in California. He noticed that the more the Kepler’s plan widens to include activities, the narrower grows that aisle of books. At Kepler’s, the ideas include:

  • More events (in store, for a fee)
  • More non-book items
  • More serving of self-published authors for a fee via the Espresso Book Machine or some other POD solution

Can the character — these stores’ community-focusing personalities — possibly prevail as their inventories and events swerve away from the nostalgic images many of us recall from our pre-digital childhoods? Turner:

That doesn’t look much like a bookstore to me.


Noe points out that the in-store cafés, often thought to be such a smart move for bookstores, aren’t necessarily the boon they appear. In many cases, café patrons will spend a day nursing a cup or two of coffee and never look at the bookstore shelves, never buy a book. In fact, they may be there with their laptops. Ordering from Our Sister Church in Seattle.

Instead of trying to become so many things to so many people, Turner asked, why not consider aligning a bookstore’s original concept (selling books) with the fact of what’s happening to the industry?

Why can’t indie booksellers acknowledge Kindle’s market dominance and serve its customers with easy ordering in-store and via indie bookstore websites, securing an affiliate fee (from Amazon)?

[blackbirdpie id=”233899399883931648″]


And from the UK, as if in answer to Turner, Philip Jones at TheFutureBook writes up A bundling experiment called “Clonefiles.” It’s being run at an independent bookshop called Mostly Books by Osprey’s Angry Robot imprint. Jones writes:

The scheme offered the digital version of Angry Robot novels free to customers when they bought the physical paperback. Two weeks later Osprey chief executive Rebecca Smart told The Bookseller, that the initiative had trebled sales of the publisher’s titles at the trial store. The scheme has been supported in-store with a window display and signs explaining how it works. There is now an intention to roll it out in other independent bookshops.


Might there be a business model to explore there? As opposed to “everybody buy a book a month?”

What’s more, there are instances of sheer novelty close at hand. Sometimes these can sustain a special bookstore, certainly. John Williams wrote the Times’ coverage of author Larry McMurtry’s auction of some 300,000 books from his store Booked Up in Archer City, Texas, in Wanted, Dead or Alive: Used Books.

No, they can’t all be McMurtry’s store. But the time is coming, faithful Ethernaut, when we may have to realize that only some of these businesses can survive. The upheaval is deep and riven with lengthening shadows.

And wherever we may look for solutions, the problem is not Amazon.

I’ll say it again for you: The problem is not Amazon.

Which is why it’s such a misguided move to try to drive a wedge between that mammoth retailing powerhouse and its committed, loyal customers.

As big as it is Amazon is, the Internet it plies so well?–is a much bigger, wider sea.

And the Net’s entry into our lives, our workplaces, our homes, our culture, our careers, and, yes, our reading, was going to happen whether Jeff Bezos ever sat down in Seattle. Amazon has leveraged the digital dynamic, not rained it down on our heads.


Look again. Those bracing memories we all love: the moment we were hand-sold  Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or a series of children’s books called The Little Colonel written in 1895 by Annie Fellows Johnston?–my grandmother showed me these on her best shelf. Those fond snapshots in our hearts are from a pre-digital era. Not from a pre-Amazon era.

Digital was coming, would come; has arrived; and it is the order of our day and our night, brothers and sisters. The deal is done; the dynamic is ours.

We order online because it’s smart, not because we’re shirking some duty to independent bookstores.

And has anyone asked a beleaguered independent bookstore owner just how many of us buying a book a month from her or him it would take to “save the life” of that emporium? Do we even know that a bunch of well-intentioned buddies writing “Me, too!” in comments on a blog post can keep a retail venture on its feet?


In the early 20th century, I could have told you that the horse and buggy ride offered fresh air, a gentle “clop clop” instead of engine noise, no gas fumes, and no flat tires. And I’d be right. But the Model T being driven into our culture by Ford would still have won out. And Ford was not the enemy.

Sometimes asking everybody to resist change by trying to preserve the familiar against the evolution of commercial forces is futile. You’re welcome to keep that buggy in the garage. But you’ll need a second garage for your Model T.

Salvation, as any PK can tell you, is never in the offering plate. It’s in finding a place, a purpose, a niche. And these bookstores have had a hard time doing that because — as with a lot of other businesses — it has simply become a lot more practical for consumers to patronize online retail outfits.

A knees-up round of guilt because we’re doing the sensible thing and shopping online may not help a single bookstore. With all respect for the sincere and heartwarming intentions of good colleagues like Callender, let’s not perpetuate digital resistance.


Let’s insist that stores we love find a way to thrive in our digital context. There are some fledgling efforts to get ebooks into retail outlets, you know, as with Clonefiles in the UK, and the Canadian beta Enthrill, now in more than 100 stores. As Laura Hazard Owen has reported at paidContent, Livrada is putting ebook gift cards into Target stores in the States.

Those schemes are early tries. We’ll need much more aggressive, integrated, practical, unsentimental thinking. Even anti-sentimental thinking.

Turner — in a Facebook conversation spurred by Ether host Jane Friedman with me, Noe, and Aaron Sikes — writes:

As a thought exercise, I would ask why it’s important for bookstores to survive? Really, specifically, why? The answer (assuming for a minute it’s not “No reason”) is the key to the emerging opportunity.


Because how long can you artificially prop up a bookstore with monthly sympathy buys?

Please. Not the cupcakes. This is way beyond bake sales.

Or am I out of my mind? Feel free to say so (you won’t be the first). What do you think? Can we possibly hope to freeze-dry our bookstores with fellowship suppers and buy-a-book campaigns? Until when? — after how many eons will we thaw them back out? Which do you choose? Are you a preservationist? Or an evolutionist?

Join us Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com for Writing on the Ether, presented this week by Ether sponsor Roz Morris and her novel, My Memories of a Future Life.

Main image: iStockphoto / angie_lemon

Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

Join the conversation

54 Comments on "EXTRA ETHER: Bookstore Bake Sale"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Dan Blank

First of all: when do you sleep? If I see any “EXTRA extra Ethers,” I am holding an intervention.

Second: really really lovely recap of thoughts on bookstores, and the reality-based approach about whose responsibility it is to “save” them. -Dan

Porter Anderson

Hey, Dan! First comment of the column, you early bird.

As for sleep, I recognize the custom when I see it, but don’t understand it.

And as for your kind comments, thanks. I hope I don’t sound like a bookstore refusenik. I’m not. But I’d like to see them saves by savvy and sanity, rather than sentiment.

Then again, I’d like a lot of things. You know me. 🙂

kathryn magendie
The difficult part came for me when I for years touted indie bookstores and spent lots of time and money in them. So when my first novel came out in 2009- traditionally published with a small press – I was so excited to have it sold in the indies! Those wonderful stores I so often talked about! I never even would mention Amazon, only “buy it from the indies!” — even when it went to the no 1 spot on Amazon kindle, I still shouted “buy it from the indies!” — until I began receiving notes from readers they couldn’t… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Kathryn, This is, actually, one of the best, clearest, and telling accounts of an author’s experience with independent bookstores I’ve read. Thank you for it, and thanks for bringing it to the Ether today, so many things you write here are clearly elements of what many authors are experiencing. In the final analysis, of course, the limitations of a physical-world bookstore vs. the virtual galaxy of online sales is crushing. And where this becomes most difficult is when authors (on whom every bookstore must depend, let’s face it) go as you do with spirit and hope into the independent bookstore… Read more »
Jim Devitt

I consider myself an evolving preservationist! Can’t live without Amazon, that is where the bulk of my income comes from, but … can’t live without the indie bookstore.

I love your idea about buying one book a month from the indie bookstore. Fantastic! We have a gem in our area http://www.booksandbooks.com/coralgables and my four-year-old loves to spend time sifting through shelves of books.

They offer tons of books signings and classes. A great community connector.

Great post.

Porter Anderson
Thanks for reading and commenting, Jim. And I must tell you it’s Sarah Callender’s idea, not mine, to buy a book a month for your store (glad you have a good one). By all means jump on that bandwagon if you think it might help. I, on the other hand, am arguing for a more business-model-related response to the crisis and hoping that sense trumps such bake-sale sentiment in this corner of the digital disruption. You may enjoy Sarah’s original post at Writer Unboxed more than mine, as a matter of fact. http://writerunboxed.com/2012/08/09/imagine-saving-a-life/ Do check it out, and thanks again,… Read more »
Jim Hamlett

Kudos again, Porter, for drawing the line where it needs to be drawn. I love a good bookstore, but the handwriting is on the wall: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”. As an old PK, you should know that one.

Porter Anderson
Ha! Well, Jim, I don’t know if God has decided that Belshazzar’s number is up, lol, but in many ways, the handwriting on those bookstore walls, yes, certainly seems to say that change has to happen — and (always with my “what do I know?” caveat in place) I’m convinced that the bake-sale response won’t get the walls whitewashed this time. We’ll see, however. Digital waits for no man, that’s for sure, and the ultimate outcome of things for our bookstores may not be that hard to discern in the near future. It’s all moving fast. Thanks for reading and… Read more »
Roz Morris fiction
I’m going to be shot for this, but I can’t use bookshops. I do my book buying after thorough research. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I want to find the widest possible range of books that fit what I’m looking for, and the widest possible range of critical evaluation. In a bookshop, I know I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg. So I use Library Thing, Goodreads and the reviews on Amazon and other review sites. I know reviewers are flawed, but I can look at a reviewer’s other utterances to learn whether they’re trustworthy, whether their tastes will correspond… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Hey, Roz – thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m in the firing squad lineup with you, I’m afraid. While, as I’m telling Sarah (what a great sport) below, I completely respect her feelings about bookstores and will be most happy to see her kids grow up enjoying them, too, they’re honestly not the best source of books for me, either. I can’t tell you how many, many, many hours of time I wasted — and you hate to say that in any activity around books — but wasted, really, staggering up and down book aisles, trying to sort… Read more »
AJ Sikes
This thread here reminds me of something else attached to the issue of bookstore survival/decline. The digital dynamic is hitting the marketplace where it counts, and it’s doing something I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. Roz’s approach to book buying is a perfect example. People don’t like to be pitched to. We just don’t like it. We mute commercials on TV, or we did back when we watched TV. Now we use Tivo and fast forward, or Hulu, Netflix, etc. If we want to find out what the latest best seller is and what it’s going for,… Read more »
Porter Anderson

VERY insightful, Aaron, I agree with you completely on this (having just noted to Viki Noe that I’m an ATM guy — I’ll do almost anything to avoid going into a bank because I don’t want tellers “good morning” me and acting as if they’re performing acts of service to simply fulfill their tasks).

We do have more control online of the bombardment from advertisement forces and as somebody who runs from “greeters” at stores, I’m all for it. 🙂


Friend Grief
Roz, I go into a bookstore precisely because of the reasons you give for not going in. I am leery of online reviews. Too many people with an agenda – snark, self-promotion, whatever – are posting reviews and I don’t have the time or interest to research the motives of the reviewers. But when I go into Women & Children First in Chicago, I know that virtually every book on the shelves has been read by a staff member. Someone there can help me make an informed choice. Granted all reviews are subjective. But I’m more inclined to trust their… Read more »
Porter Anderson
I think Roz is trying to answer you, Viki, just FYI, but has had at least one try eaten up by Discus, which it does from time to time. Meanwhile, I’ll just ad that your experience with Women and Children Over the Side First sounds terrific, and congrats on it. Sounds to me as if a niche fulfillment is under way there, and that should, indeed, be the key for healthy survival in many instances, if not all. Personally, as I was saying in a response to Roz (I agree with her), I find the sheer time expenditure of having… Read more »
Agreed Roz. Amazon has it all, and the books are delivered brand new (not fingered up), and I don’t have to drive anywhere to do it, and I can order it anywhere I am at. Frankly, I don’t understand the aversion to Amazon in the book publishing world. Or maybe I do. I think there is a panic as the new model is taking over the old model. Everyone knows that Amazon is the leader of the new model. Indie bookstores, they were wonderful, and the people who ran them were wonderful too, but let’s be pragmatic. Isn’t their time… Read more »
Porter Anderson

I’ll just jump in here, Sue, to say your willingness to just say “behind the times” is refreshing. We get a bit too PC in the industry to say that clearly at times, when really, that’s what’s at the bottom of all this. Thanks for reading and contributing to our lively bout of comments today!

Sarah Callender
Hi Porter. I absolutely agree that indie bookstores need to evolve. But I also think that being in a bookstore feels good. It’s that simple: bookstores make me feel good. Therefore, I want my kids to know what bookstores feel like; I want to have a place where I can go and see and smell and touch real books on shelves; I want to have a place where I can be around others who love the feel and smell and sight of books. Until bookstores find creative, tech-savvy ways to evolve, I am thrilled to bake cupcakes. And all God’s… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Sarah! You’re a wonderful sport! And I completely respect your love of bookstores — right down to your feeling good in them. I hope something of that came across in the piece. (Many a Sunday, Daddy and I had to agree to just respect each other’s skepticism, lol — the “one man’s religion is the next man’s belly laugh” approach.) Thanks for reading and commenting so graciously. I’d be thoroughly happy to have your kids know what bookstores feel like and to enjoy them throughout their lives — and their kids, too. I’m just of the opinion that we can… Read more »
Diane Krause

All I can say is, Amen, brother, Amen (hand raised, not above shoulder level, and eyes closed).

Porter Anderson

Good choreography on that hand-raise, Diane, lol, and thanks for the vote of confidence from the pews.

Seriously, let’s hope our stores pull through for those who find their environments and sales important and supportive. My money is on the non-sentimental approach, but we shall see. We already have Jim Hammett in a comment below checking on the numbering of the kingdom of Belshazzar, so things may get a bit apocalyptic before the get easier.

Grab a coffee at the cafe while ye may. 🙂

Lynne Hugo

Dear Sarah, I will be grateful for a good recipe for chocolate cupcakes. Count me in.

Porter Anderson

There you go, a bake-off on the digital frontier. 🙂


Nice post, Porter. (When do you have time for all this?)

Instead of finding models to prop up the horse and buggy of book shops, digital models that capitalize on the “Ford and highway” of Amazon and indie authors are much more forward thinking and appealing.

Porter Anderson

Sounds right to me, Sue, thanks for reading and comenting!

Mary Lou Locke
I thought this article in PW today about a SF/Fan bookstore initiative to develop a subscription model for reissuing out of print and hard to get books as ebooks was a good example of an indie bookstore trying a different model. http://bit.ly/SiwoY3 Bundling ebooks with print books has been mentioned as a useful strategy for some time, so it is good to have Clonefiles now come out with as a concrete example that is successful. As Dean Wesley Smith has been arguing for some time, authors need to recognize that print isn’t going to go away and that they need… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Hi there, and thanks for your comment! I’m impressed, as with Kathryn, on your figures about ebook sales being so much more lucrative (and practical to pursue in terms of time and effort). I’m always sorry when folks seem to interpret the slightest enthusiasm for ebooks as a condemnation of print. I’m very happy for print and ebooks to co-exist, as you are — but I appreciate the reality of what your figures show you. And isn’t it interesting that you and I would likely be pinned as anti-print? (One commenter today already has tried that one on me.) I… Read more »
You’re approaching the question as a monotheist who believes in One Right Way For Everyone (or else). No thanks. I’m a pantheist and pay homage to many and all. Yes, e-books are here to stay, but printed books will still be around too. Wait till the grid goes down, all those devices inevitably upgrade, or the Big-A decides to wipe your file. Printed books will always be there for you, faithful and loyal, beautifully illuminated with design and art. I may buy trashy novels as e-books, sure, but anything I want to retain I get on hard copy. Yes, we’re… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Thanks for reading and commenting, DeDanan. Not sure I’m able to follow your thoughts here, but I assure you that I’m just fine to see print flourish along with ebooks (nothing in my sermon today says otherwise, does it?). You’ll notice I point out that if Jeff Bezos weren’t the largest digital game in town, someone else would be — I’m delighted for you to do business with all the someone else’s you like. I focused on Amazon to the degree I did because Sarah Callender in her piece at Writer Unboxed (which prompted this write), specifically and entirely named… Read more »
Sorry to be unclear — my fault for extending your metaphor (it was so irresistible). My point is that multiple options and choices create a healthy ecosystem in publishing and book-selling. I choose to support that. Amazon aims for industrial monoculture by clearcutting the forest. Your post makes it seem as if that’s just fine by you. If our goal is a vibrant living system, I think that is problematic, yes. Damn, another extended metaphor. But I trust you will understand, although not agree. BTW, how DO you find time to respond to every comment? Impressive!
Peter Turner

Having had a hand in stirring this pot, I’d love to add some fresh ingredients. Better yet, let’s re-frame the issue. It’s not about bookstores. It’s about what they uniquely provide, if anything; and what they do especially well, if anything. If there is a future to bookstores (and I don’t necessarily mean physical bookstores, as that’s a presumption), it’s in those two questions.

Porter Anderson
I’m with you, Peter, and I think we can reframe it many ways. However, the people marching out to buy a book a month — under the impression that they can “safe the life of a bookstore” by such means — DO see it as being about bookstores. One way or another, I think the conversation will shift eventually, automatically, as the digital dynamic takes its toll on the existing stores and more communities find themselves having to think beyond the bake sale strategies of yore. In the meantime, the debate is being held on several levels, some of them… Read more »
Peter Turner

You’re right, you’re right. I know patience, but we’re not close.

Porter Anderson

Well, and you’re right that we’re not close. It’s daunting, really. Like watching natural selection in real time.


Copperfield’s Books, our local bookstore in Sonoma County, CA, has partnered with Google to purchase eBooks. copperfieldsbooks.com

AJ Sikes

Just dropped $35 there last week. GREAT store! Great selection, the whole bit. Adding eBooks should help them maintain, but I also think their survival is a function of their location. The community, I mean, seems more inclined to support brick-n-mortar because that’s the Healdsburg culture, for lack of a better word. People like going into boutiques and local shops around the square. It’s part of the experience of visiting a town like Healdsburg.

And if you haven’t dined at Campo Fina yet, do yourself the favor 🙂

Porter Anderson

Very telling, yes, the surrounding community CAN make a huge difference if a store is aligned with what’s wanted and if that community’s personality gravitates to that “popping into little places” way of life. I’ve seen this a couple of times, too.

Porter Anderson

Sounds potentially like a good move. There has been a relatively recent series of changes in Google’s policies on its affiliates program which may have affected the store’s relationship with them. Might be worth asking about it next time you’re in. Thanks for reading and commenting, Marlene!

AJ Sikes
Thanks for the mention, Porter. That was an enjoyable conversation, indeed, and your summation and expansion of it here was no less pleasant to read. The sci-fi writer in me wants bookstores to look like this in the future…a room full of kiosks, some tables and chairs, maybe a divan and a brass lamp or two for ambiance. A few shelves around the walls, but mostly for decoration. They’ve got archival copies of some classics behind glass. A few shelves for browsing up by the counter, new releases, some picture books for the kiddies to peruse. Customers come in, beeline… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Hey, Aaron, thanks for reading and commenting, and for your earlier contributions to the thinking. All this sounds like a dandy design idea for a store. I think the only thing I’d say isn’t clear here is … why? As cool (and comprehensive, which I appreciate) as the ambiance is and as the capabilities are, what makes a customer need to leave the convenience of ordering by wifi in an instant what they need from their Kindle from wherever they are, instead of traveling to your finely appointed store? What we’re looking for — and I think this is what… Read more »
Annmarie Banks
“At Kepler’s, the ideas include: More events (in store, for a fee)More non-book itemsMore serving of self-published authors for a fee via the Espresso Book Machine or some other POD solution”Turning a bookstore into something else to save it? A venue? A coffee shop? something that no longer resembles a bookstore? I worked in a bookstore for more than 20 years and watched “sidelines” creep up to fill 25 % of the floor space. I have been there on the front lines. Last time I was in a public library it was packed. I waited 15 minutes to check out.… Read more »
Porter Anderson

Good points, Annemarie, thanks for reading and for letting me hear from you. The key may be getting the inventory in the bookstores to match the low pricing of those ebooks people CAN afford, huh?

Wendy Russ
I view these debates with some envy, because I live in a tiny little town that doesn’t have a bookstore. The nearest bookstore to me is 40 miles away, a small chain store. The nearest indie would probably be about 70 miles from me in a city I travel to maybe once or twice per year. But I listen to and read the debates hungrily because I love imagining what it would be like to have a great indie bookstore. (The closest thing we had when I was a kid was a hotel that had a little bookshelf of Harlequins.… Read more »
Porter Anderson

Good point, Wendy, and thanks for reminding us all — some are very lucky to have had an independent (or chain) bookstore at all. That, of course, is one marvel of the digital era, in that we now all have access to books in ways we never did. As Mr. Bezos in his Prime loves to remind us. 🙂

Thanks again, good to have you in the convo!

Tom Bentley
Porter, my meds haven’t kicked in, so I can express my schizophrenia sans intervention: electronic efficiency trumps chocolate cupcakes regarding business sustainability. Bookstores won’t pre-heat many sales with half-baked ideas like that. And as a reader and author, I’m at home being part of the Kindleverse—you and your commenters here have ably outlined the advantages. Yet I do deeply enjoy tethering my horse outside my local bookstores for reasons that smack a bit of that needless nostalgia: rather than, “I like my transactions to be efficient, quick, impersonal, and affordable,” in a bookstore, I like to stumble around, bump into… Read more »

[…] Porter Anderson's "Ether" column via Jane Friedman's blog is as close as you can get to required reading for anyone interested in digital publishing …  […]

Turndog Millionaire
There aren’t many cool indie bookstores near me. I wish there was. As such /I don’t feel as strong about this as many. I love Amazon. Ebooks are useful. For instance, I purposely get all business related and self books on Kindle, even if it is more than the paperback. Why? So I can have them on me at all times I also love the real deal fiction books, too. Sometimes it’s nice to be in bed with an actual thing The world needs both. As such, Indie Stores need to get on board. I look forward to them offering… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Agree completely, Matt, and I think that sooner than later, we’ll be able to tell better which stores have responded to the digital dynamic and which have hung back in hopes that they could weather things out without making major adjustments. Fewer and fewer folks live near independent stores. I’ve been lucky to be around quite a number of them in various places, but I have to say their pleasures just never have risen to the level of a necessity for many people. “Nice to have,” not “need to have.” There are exceptions of course (both stores and people) but… Read more »
Turndog Millionaire

Agree, we don’t need them anymore so stores need to adapt. It’s all about the customer in the end of the day. I do hope some indie stores find this route. It would be a shame to lose them, but that is life

Some will fail



[…] Amazon v independent bookstores.  […]

I think Sarah is justified in calling out the people who say “I love bookstores!” and moan over the indies disappearing, but then order from Amazon because it’s cheaper and faster. If you think bookstores are dinosaurs, and you love digital, then BY ALL MEANS, fire up that Kindle and have at it. But then when the bookstores go down, please say “Yep, I did that. About time, too!” Don’t sit around saying “Oh, how sad, another bookstore closed. Ah, life! Why I remember when someone handsold me A Wrinkle In Time!” If you want them to be there, you… Read more »
Porter Anderson

Thanks so much for your input. I can tell you need to hear nothing more from me, it seems you feel very secure with your opinions on this — which is good — and I wish you joy of them. Since I have no need to convince you of the rightness of my own (or anyone else’s) thoughts on the matter, I’ll just thank you again for your spirited remarks and wish you a good day.


I think Sarah has every right to call out people who say “I love bookstores!” and then use Amazon anyway, and then say “Oh, how sad!” when a bookstore goes under. If someone is willing to say “I am done with bookstores. They can all close now. I’ll use Amazon exclusively!” then they should say it, and then they can feel happy when the bookstores close. They can say “Yay! I did that! Progress!” If they DO NOT want the bookstores to close then they must buy books at the bookstores. It’s just logical. There are really only two sides… Read more »
Porter Anderson

Hi, I’m uncertain as to whether you may be the same person who just left another comment (immediately below this one) as “guest,” but I just want to say thank you for your input and for reading the post, much appreciated.


[…] they do it guiltily and they talk  a lot about supporting their local independent bookstore. Porter Anderson has written a great article eviscerating that sort of sentimental thinking. Students have exactly the same kind of sentimental […]