By Heather Ijames
I feel a particular, painful pang at the closing of Russo's Books at The Marketplace. About a year ago, I had a great book signing there. I was floored with the outpouring of clientele showing up on that Saturday, treading that familiar emerald green carpet. It was a good day. A productive day.
Tony Russo was a delight, telling me I had managed to sell most of the books he ordered. He then asked when my second book would come out. I told him a year ago it would be this February, and he said I was welcome to come back.
Sadly, a February book signing won't be happening this time around, at least not at Russo's, but that's not what causes that pang. It's this inner turmoil I feel ... did I contribute to Russo's closing?
I read almost all my books on my Kindle. Yet, I loved Russo's and still love hometown businesses. Whenever I was in The Marketplace, I went into Russo's, if only to buy a children's book for the boys.
I've heard all the sobbing and woe over the book industry for years now, but I didn't think we'd lose Russo's store, which will continue an online presence. I don't know the ins and outs of their lease, I just know what I know on a national level as an author: The closing of bookstores is an epidemic, even if those bookstores enjoy reasonable rent.
Am I sorry this is happening? As an author, absolutely. With each bookstore lost, I lose a shelf to house my books. I also lose spots in this world to show my children walls and walls of new books.
Am I sorry as a consumer? Tougher question. Like I've said, I'm an offender to the death of print because I adore my e-reader.
I hate to see the world in which I operate and play in get messy ... a world where an author who prefers e-books strongly laments the perpetual closing of bookstores because of the internet. And yet, I did about 99.5 percent of my Christmas shopping through Amazon, at my computer, in pink fluffy slippers.
I've also yet to witness how this transition away from honest-to-goodness bookstores to the world of e-readers and Internet sales affects the bottom lines of authors, agents and publishers. As far as I know, most of my personal book sales are coming from Amazon, anyway, so I won't begin to poo-poo them for taking over the book-selling world.
Is an Internet-based switch for the better, the worse, or is it a different kind of the same? I've heard mixed reactions from fellow authors. Many admit that if not for the reach of Amazon, they wouldn't have sold as many books. Other authors feel they get lost in all the zeros and ones of Amazon digital code, as well as the influx of self-published books side-by-side in the search query. Whereas, in a store, a traditionally published author is highlighted, easier to spot, right there in their genre.
Even with all that, there's a dip in book sales, globally.
I'm purely speculating here, but I believe the fact that book sales are decreasing, as well as bookstores deceasing, has less to do with e-readers and Internet sales, and much more to do with a general lack of interest in the written word.
If I'm right in that regard, then how many others are offenders? Not just to the death of print, but also the death of books. I may only read books I purchase online through my e-reader, but I'm still reading. I'm still putting my money into the pile and pilfering through all those glorious stories.
According to a recent YouGov poll, 28 percent of Americans have not read a single book in the preceding year. According to other polls regarding Kern County's literacy rates, that figure has to be higher here.
When the dust settles after a bookstore's doors close for the final time, it's hard to say that consumers are truly upset with the changes. They direct the market, after all, and the direction they've chosen is that bookstores aren't a necessity for their literary enjoyment, if they enjoy literary pursuits at all.
Let me ask you then, what book have you read lately?
-- Heather Ijames is a community columnist whose work appears here every third Saturday. These are the opinions of Ijames, not necessarily The Californian. Send email to her at email@example.com.