Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

The rent is too damn high

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Did you see this? Manhattan is losing its bookstores.

And not just the independent, one-of-a-kinds — that trend got started almost twenty years ago. Now even Barnes & Noble is closing many of its doors in the priciest rent market around.

The irony is delectable, since Manhattan is the heart of the traditional publishing business. I’m sure this isn’t lost on the executives who bring us such lofty volumes as Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight on a rotating basis — books you simply must own. How are they going to dispense those tons of pulp without lots of brick n’ mortar junk havens?

To be perfectly frank, I stopped haunting bookstores a few years back when it struck me that they never had in stock what I was looking for. My bad, I suppose, since I was never looking for the latest Twilight installment or a novel by someone named “Nora Roberts.” Oh, and they seldom carried Parts Unknown either, so turnabout seemed fair play. Sure, I’ve had wonderful times in wonderful neighborhood bookstores over the years, but I also enjoyed used-record shops and music stores, and those are just as threatened now as bookstores.

The problem that faces small store owners in Manhattan, of course, is the astronomical rents commanded by landlords. Did I read that right?: $40,000/month for small space on the Upper East Side? You have to move a hell of a lot of paper to break even on that proposition. In San Francisco right now, you can get reasonable spaces for less than half that, and yet —

And yet, you don’t see bookstores popping up all over SF.

Because, let’s face it, if even Barnes & Noble is pulling up stakes, something is wrong with the business model. I might make humorous political dolls out of dried mushrooms, but I certainly wouldn’t cough up forty grand a month for retail space just because they’re adorable and I’m so proud of them. No, I imagine I’d sell them on Ebay instead. Or at farmer’s markets and fairs. Or even on Amazon.

But books seem inherently different, don’t they? We feel like we’ve lost something huge when bookstores go away, even though the books are still available, and more conveniently than ever. It’s that romantic quality, that nostalgic air we miss — the promise of an unexpected find or a title you wouldn’t normally buy except, hell, here it is on the shelf and it looks pretty good as you leaf through it. Smells good too.

I suppose there will be workarounds and improvisations, a transition period, but I’ll tell you what I definitely don’t want to see. As proposed by some publishing exec in the article, stores like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie would “have some degrees of books. It’s better than nothing.”

All I can say to that is, Ugh.

Yesterday Road $1.99

7 comments on “The rent is too damn high

  1. John W. Howell
    March 27, 2014

    Hate to see outlets go even if they won’t stock my stuff. Still want to believe folks would like to spend time there instead of in front of a monitor. I know . . . hopeless.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 27, 2014

      Quite the paradox that these are/were places people really enjoy being in, yet the economics of retail no longer seem to make sense for them.

      Yeah, kind of hopeless. But maybe something better’s on the way!

      (How’s that for bone-headed optimism?)

      • John W. Howell
        March 27, 2014

        any kind of optimism is better than none

  2. ericjbaker
    March 27, 2014

    As a potential future published novelist, I hate the idea of no more bookstores, but I’m not so upset as a consumer. Bookstores have become a bad business model.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 27, 2014

      As with most things, it seems like when large chains emerged, the whole concept started declining.

      Yet, one of my favorite independent bookstores — where I used to hang 30 years ago — is still there, kicking butt. Left Bank Books. St. Louis, MO.

      Rock on, LBB!

  3. Tim Baker
    March 27, 2014

    I keep asking myself which bookstore will be the pioneer to tap into the vein of indie published gold…

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This entry was posted on March 27, 2014 by in Publishing and tagged , , , .
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