The Way I See It “Freedom is just another word for nothin’ left to lose…” -Janis Joplin
All right, I admit it. As an independent bookseller in today’s marketplace, sometimes I wonder how much more I can lose. Being self-employed seems to mean paying my own way — and everyone else’s, too. We all have moments like this, when the downside of life looks bigger than the upside.
But, Janis Joplin obviously never ran with my crowd. To the independent booksellers I know, “freedom” means taking responsibility for our own destiny. We have accepted responsibility for our own businesses, incomes, and futures. Add in our strong wills, creative thinking and professionalism and there’s the very essence of the modern entrepreneur. We ARE the cutting edge.
Booksellers have always been a tough breed. The trade has been around a very long time and survived all challenges over the decades. Today, we are dealing with what could seem to be the single greatest threat to hardcopy books — the internet — and seeing instead it fueling one of the biggest booms in the number of new independent bookselling sources. The potentials in our own little bookselling community haven’t even scratched the surface as yet.
Change can be rough, though. Adjusting to the rapid paced, high technology Internet environment has forced us to re-evaluate nearly every aspect of the way we have always done it before. From book valuation to deciding to be a brick and mortar and/or an online only bookseller, we each are deciding for ourselves what to keep from our past and what to revise. It’s interesting enough to wonder what a “typical” bookseller’s reality will be in another ten years, let alone one hundred years from now.
As the president of IOBA, I spend some time thinking about that hypothetical bookseller and market, and have come to the conclusion that the most critical factor that will impact that future reality is the answer we develop to the following Big Question: “To what extent will independent booksellers prove able and willing to unify and cooperate for the common good of our trade, yet maintain the very independence which is our greatest strength as individuals?”
This is a life or death question for IOBA, and any other independent organization or group forming up now or in the future. These efforts will live or die by how accurately they answer the Big Question, preserve each member’s vitality and uniqueness, and yet provide the best forum for us all to come together and not only agree on those concerns we share, but also work together to find our own solutions when we can. If we fail, we must accept responsibility for the growing plethora of other interests filling the void for their own cuts of the “pie” and grabbing up as much as they can, as if there isn’t plenty for everyone. Janis was wrong, but Pogo was right when he said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
I, for one, am not at all pessimistic about the present and future survival of this trade I love. I know IOBA has incredible potential to become a major asset to independent booksellers worldwide. I hear good words about other initiatives, like Book CoOp. I know if we fail to answer the Big Question correctly, find the winning balance between unity and individual independence, others will rise up. That’s natural in a competitive arena.
These are great times to be alive and to be an independent online bookseller. I hear a lot of doom and gloom, and all the major chains and conglomerates are in my little town, too. Yet, a new little independent used bookstore just opened a mile from my house, and they obviously expect to succeed. I can’t help but love that winning attitude. It’s not true that freedom and independence means there’s nothing left to lose. The way I see it, being an independent today means we have everything to gain.
I’m excited, and I’m a winner! How about you?