Creative Destruction

On the business of books -- Creative Destruction: Elegy for a Bookstore and a Book Culture

Creative Destruction* is now a business term meant to convey the necessity of clearing the way for the new -- capitalism's periodic way of preparing the foundation by leveling existing structures, if necessary, all in the goal of new efficiencies, progress, etc., etc. The book business is in the midst of one such leveling. Like all situations where euphemisms are attached, the term is often in jarring dissonance with what is witnessed on the ground, where real lives and livelihoods are impacted directly.

It's common news now for bookstores, long in business, to be closing their doors. Village Voice Bookshop in Paris is closing after a thirty year run. It's also common to say, of course...this is the way of life, as we all turn toward our laptop screens and tablets for more minutes and hours of the day. Most in the book business were never in it for the money; surely, not the independent booksellers, those that provided a physical space where it was never solely about the purchase of a book. In business terms, judging by marketplace efficiencies, the move to e-books has been a no-brainer. What we're losing with this predominately economic mindset is worth noting.

Independent bookstores have long provided their communities with an intellectual space where like minds -- book lovers -- could gather. Each bookstore expressed the quirkiness of the owner and said something about the local community, too. The pleasure of browsing, the potential for chance meeting with an author, usually in the form of a book, sometimes at a reading, or bumping into another patron with similar taste, was always in the air. The business of a bookstore was always socially minded. The pure arrangement of aisles and bookcases reminded you how much the world offered and how little one lifetime allowed. 

At the same time that bookstores are folding from economic pressures, library funding is being questioned in many communities. The recession has had a great impact on budgets, and library hours and staffing are being cut back. The library has always been the primary landscape and provider of the common good, where no one was ever turned away for the lack of money.

As books become something only read on devices, we will all be locked into the culture and cultural limitations of the device providers and their shareholders. The grand hope of the democratization of publishing, with the fall of the gatekeepers, will exclude those not able to pay the initial device fee and the ongoing per item cost. Libraries matter, if community matters, and if the common good matters.  

Community can be made online, though it is difficult -- not impossible -- to do from behind a screen. With time and thought maybe real communities will form. Matthew Stadler is trying to do so with Publication Studio. I've learned much from him. 

I have novels ready to publish. I've been thinking about finding another agent, but I've hesitated so far. For many reasons, I may publish on my own. I do so with full knowledge of what's at stake and what has been lost along the way. We're at a crossroads, culturally; a clear path has not been cut yet. As readers and writers we need to take these steps mindfully, with suasion.   


the history of Creative Destruction on wikipedia