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A Bookstore Stimulus Package?

Here’s a letter that Roy Blount Jr., a wonderful author (all football fans should read his Steelers classic About Three Bricks Shy) and president of the Authors Guild, recently sent to Guild members:

I’ve been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren’t known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don’t lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn’t in the cards.

We don’t want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let’s mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that’s just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they’re easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves. Stockpile children’s books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they’ll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: “Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see…we’re the Authors Guild.”

Enjoy the holidays.

Roy Blount Jr.

If the government isn’t going to bail out the auto industry (yet, at least; give it a few more days), it’s certainly not going to bail out bookstores or the suffering publishing industry. (Nor journalism, although some wish it would.) But people who lead lives of writing and reading surely wish that someone could do something.

My fear is that the market has spoken just as loudly about books as it has about American cars: they are not a necessity, and therefore they are bound to suffer when times are tight. This doesn’t mean that certain high-quality or trendy products won’t be rewarded; this doesn’t mean the industries will vanish; nor does it mean that they might not come roaring back, in some fashion. But as much as I would like to think that Blount’s plea will have a massive and good effect on bookstores, publishers, and authors, the rationalist in me fears it will not.

What do you think the effect of this “buy-cott” will be?