At his Journal, Neil Gaiman has posted a letter from a retailer talking about how free downloads hurt independent retailers. The twist in this case? It’s an independent bookstore retailer, talking about Gaiman’s and Harper Collins’ recent plan to give away a free
audio download online reading copy [Thanks to Mr. Gaiman for the correction] of Gaiman’s bestselling novel, American Gods.
“As a bookseller, I am a bit surprised by your recent comment about free books and the HarperCollins download. … Our situation improves as more non-readers become readers, but we can’t survive when the readers go elsewhere. I am not at all against free literature–I firmly believe that the more people read the more people read–but somehow, if we independents are to survive, we need to be included somewhere in the formula.” – Bookseller Don Muller, Old Harbor Books
Gaiman’s response is, as one might expect, a smart, considered, and articulate one. Essentially “I am giving away a small portion of my intellectual property, so that you will be able to sell all the rest of it.” To be honest, that’s really all that needs to be said. The book has been out for years now anyway, it’s been through three or four diffferent sales cycles. I applaud Gaiman for letting people [read the book online] to increase awareness of his work and help create new fans, and I do so particularly AS a bookseller with a good four shelves of his work in the store. For those keeping score at home, I’m all for creative people doing what they like with their content, and I like that they’re playing fair by, oh, I don’t know, not releasing it for free on the internet for the first time before retailers who have purchased said material non-returnably have a chance to sell it. Biiiig difference there, one that I really hope BOOM! figures out some day.
Meanwhile, what struck me enough about this discussion to actually post about it was Gaiman’s description of some of his experiences with independent bookstores. Note, these are “real” book stores, and not those exclusively devoted to comic books:
“My local bookshop (now deceased) was physically arranged so that finding a book and then buying it was harder than walking around around the shop and going back out again; the bookseller mostly sat at the cash register in the middle of the shop playing online chess, and he tended to be unhelpful, vaguely grumpy and to treat people who wanted to buy things as nuisances (he was nice to me, because I was me, but still); he didn’t stock paperback bestsellers because “people could always go to Wal-mart for those” and when the she shop closed its doors the final time they put up a note on the door saying that it was Amazon.com that had driven them out of business, when it manifestly wasn’t — it seemed to me that they didn’t work to entice people into the bookshop (which is what those paperback bestsellers were for), and didn’t give them a pleasant experience when they were there…” – Neil Gaiman
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
I have to admit that it stings when I see negative depictions of booksellers posted anywhere. I try really hard at my store to be positive, upbeat, have a good selection, and even keep things as orderly as possible given the fact that we outgrew out current space 2 or 3 years ago. But I have bad days (bad weeks) and sometimes I’m grumpy at people, or have had such a miserable day that if I don’t defocus my eyes playing a round of Scrabulous I’m going to lose my shit… But the customer doesn’t see that, obviously. They just see some jerk that’s being a dick behind a counter. So it stings and I resolve to leave my bad mood on the internet, where it belongs. (Of course, if I were a certain breed of contemporary comics retailer, I’d likely start a petition to ban negative depictions of comics stores from the internet… or suffer the consequences!)
But I digress.
Gaiman’s response is, as I said, quite lovely, and addresses not only the letter he prints, but much of the thought and reasoning (and fear…) behind it. I do recommend checking it out.
…and to see me at my most articulate and lovely as a comic store employee, Christopher Bird has transcribed the most accurate and… dare I say it… realistic account of a conversation I’ve ever had with a customer at the store, over at his blog. Heh.