The Disheartening Demise of the last two bookstores in Springfield, Ohio

I believe it was on Black Friday, though it could have been on Turkey Day or Decorating Saturday, I'm not sure at this second and it doesn't matter. There was an article in the SPringield News Sun, our recently neutered newspaper about the encroaching death of both B. Dalton and Walden Books in the Upper Valley Mall in 2010. The article went on about the great tragedy of losing both booksellers and leaving our county with the options of buying our books either online, or from a big box retailer with limited selection, or of course traveling 25 miles to the closest B&N.
This is bitter sweet news, something I predicted years ago, but sad just to same to see that I am right again- there is a lack of people who can and do read in the city of Springfield.
Several years ago, I approached both bookstores about doing book signings. Walden's, whose manager I've known for years reported that-
"We only do signings with bestselling authors."
Now at that time I knew better, but of course there's no point in arguing with the obtuse, especially when none of the big names have ever come to that bookstore and the few signed copies of anything on their shelves rode in on the back of a truck with the rest of the stuff.
So off I trekked to the other end of the Mall, to Dalton's, where I also knew the manager. I made a similar suggestion, and it was agreed that my co-author and I would come and sign copies of The Coming of T’Loal, our crookedly cobbled contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos.
From time to time my evil side begs that I ask the Walden manager when the next bestselling author is coming to town, but I just don’t have the strength.
A year after our signing for T’Loal I went back to Dalton’s to see about setting up a book signing for my novel Frank Testimony, the new manager told me that their policy had changed and they were no longer allowed to set up signings, I needed to contact their corporate offices.
In the past four years I’ve counted less than five signings happening at either store, and very few in the main concourse of the mall at all… If the bookstores are shunning new authors, where will the next bestselling authors come from? If they won’t carry our books, or in some cases even order them, (I swear an author friend told me that this same Walden Books would not order a copy of her book for a friend of hers who tried to get one) How long did they expect to stay in business if they didn’t want to service readers or writers? I guess there’s always the latte’ business…

Just growling, sorry for those I’ve offended.

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I would have loved to do this. Maybe next time!
Righto! And then, of course, some authors simply enjoy the signings. In that case: by all means, enjoy!
I have two Borders about equidistant from me, so a few months ago I took a gift card to Bowie instead of Columbia for a change of pace. Wandered the store for half an hour and couldn't find one book that interested me; best-selling authors only, including their less than memorable efforts. No midlist to speak of; absolutely no one new.

Recently the Columbia Borders has become much the same, though not as extreme. I realize they want to preserve the shelf space for "guaranteed" sellers, but they're apparently not selling enough of those to stay in business. Seems they don't have any better handle on the "business model" than do the publishers.

(I am, with difficulty, restraining myself from the "shelf space" discussion, as it is a separate topic.)
Jack, it would seem to me to advertise an author is coming to your store to sign autographs--any author whether well known or not--would be just thing you'd want to do to sell books. Readers rarely see anyone doing something like this these days. The novelty alone should draw people.

I agree, however, it is also the responsibility of the author to drum up some interest prior to showing up. Putting a news bit in the papers, doing a little advertising in the city, is the author's half of the the responsibility in making a signing work.
I've done more than three dozen bookstore signings the last three years. No one ever comes to see me. It's the foot traffic in the store which I try to take advantage of -- "Hey, do you ever read mysteries?"
Good point, Jack. But some kind of proactive effort has to take place between bookstore and writer for anything to get sold. Obviously the national chains are hurting banking only on big-names to pull them through. So some kind of paradigm shift has to take place.
Actually, now that I think back, there was a major exception. (I'm getting old). Murder by the Book in Houston has a big following of mystery fans, and when I appeared there in 2008, six or seven people came to hear me talk, and one or two of them was a real fan (So far, the highlight of my fiction writing career). They do a nice promotion in their newsletter and in the store, and I understand brand new authors always get some kind of audience.

So maybe you guys are on to something. If MBTB can do this, why not other stores? I know they are much envied for their following.
The back and forth of this discussion is evidence (to me, at least) of something I've suspected for a while now. The publishers and bookstores don;t want to get behind midlist or new writers; the payback is too low, and it's too risky. They want to play the sure thing and live year-to-year selling blockbusters. That, they tell you, is where the money is.

Except both ends (publishers and booksellers) spend the rest of their time--when they're not telling you bestselling blockbusters is the only way they can make money--by complaining how they're going broke.

If I didn't have a vested interest in trying to get a book deal, I'd be happy to see both ends of the equation go belly up. The more I learn, the less confidence I have that either side of the equation has a clue what they're doing.

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