Thanks, Keith. This makes me think of some of Rebecca Solnit's writing about the extraordinary behaviour of communities in disaster. Reading her essays about say Katrina or Haiti also makes it clear how much the response and recovery depend on what a place is like *before* disaster strikes.
Unity are often the booksellers on the scene at such events. I don't know how it works for them, but they seem committed, so assume there are some good results.
In-person contact between writers & readers is one development; something like Cursor's publishing model is another, http://thinkcursor.com/ and booksellers are part of the picture.
If I'm trying to say anything, it's - cliche alert - that we're in a golden age for readers, & a kind of freaky and potentially rewarding time for writers, publishers, book retailers etc, and good content needs to be supported. If or how it's going to be supported is what we're all in the process of finding out. At least we're awake.
Yeah, I'm not talking about standard author-reading-from-published-work events, though god knows they are a reality of now & many people enjoy them. Most writers I know agree that book promotion eats horribly into writing time etc, even as the benefits of meeting readers are great. And I take B. Kingsolver's concerns seriously too - but that's not what I mean. I'm talking about a different way of connecting. Venues & ideas that give rise to new writing / reading / speaking / listening forms. The OGB last year was a good example of that for me.
"I don’t think bookstores will survive thanks to engaged consumers. They will survive by providing smart readers with a service that cheaper online depositories can’t match. Whitcoulls hasn’t been doing that, and frankly it’s not technology’s fault."
I don't think what I'm arguing for is incompatible with this point. Engaged consumers might not simply be buyers of the physical book. Some bookshops (and writers through other venues) are offering readers/customers/listeners different ways of engaging with story-telling, poetry, the word, in a development nudged along by technology that I really welcome. Because the way we read and buy books is changing, writers are learning to communicate in different ways and some of the things we've been involved in recently (Book Council events, the OGB) have moved that writer/reader public relationship way past the trad. lit fest model. It's a return to personal community interaction that is growing precisely because it's in contrast to the other changing ways we read. I love it. And I think that's part of the service/artistic practice writers, booksellers and event curators can offer. Whether this is taken up by readers and listeners in a way that enables our survival remains to be seen.
There'll always be other demands on our budgets. I'm suggesting that people who love reading (or music, or whatever) take a long view - and that our economic choices and responses shape our culture.
There are some great points made here and thanks Craig and Russell for providing the forum. The Nine to Noon interview is definitely worth a listen. I guess as an invested author it's simple for me to want to support those who support me, so I buy from independents and chain stores that know what they're doing & reorder stock when it's sold through (many big chains don't think to do this with NZ books).
Although the internet is great for researching I try as far as possible to order through independents, even if it means waiting longer. It seems to me that if we want certain things in our communities we have to be active participants in that relationship, whether it's buying music & books locally because you like having the stores to browse & hang out in or know people who are employed there or would just rather have them there than a parking lot - or making use of public transport, or sending kids to the local school, etc. I know I've got very personal interests in the ongoing existence of physical bookstores, & apologies (well, not really) for coming over all Joni Mitchell, but we don't have to be slaves to the shifting technological moment if there are aspects of the status quo we would like to preserve.
As far as Whitcoulls goes, I would love to see them return to what's been articulated above in terms of what people want out of a bookstore - but maybe that has changed too, in a way that's always going to be incompatible with their economic and administrative structure.
So, I'm biased, and not 'blaming' the internet as this doesn't look like a situation of 'fault', but - and I'm possibly preaching to the choir or stating the bleeding obvious! - I just want to speak up for active consumer engagement that isn't only convenience based. If we have to live in a consumer society at least we can try to make it one that serves a physical community too.