Diary of a Bookseller

Going Digital

What happens when you take a whole bunch of booksellers and tell them that they have to read all the upcoming releases for fall, the biggest book season of the year, digitally?

Diary of a Bookseller #15

One of the best parts of my job as an indie bookstore manager is all the advance reader copies that come through our doors on a daily basis. As a staff, we’re interested in about 25% of the adult books and 50% of the kids/YA books we get sent in boxes from the publishers, and we all have wish lists for our reps a mile long of ones we really want them to send. The advance copies are a great way to see what’s coming – after all, a large part of our love of books is rooted in the physical sensation of holding a book in our hands, taking a page out of Rory Gilmore’s book and taking a big whiff of the distinct bookish smell (pun absolutely intended), and turning the pages one by one, seeing where the book takes us.

The fall books are some of the best and most highly anticipated books of the whole year – they’re the books coming out in September and October that you want to give your family members during the holiday gift-giving season. We’re the ones who pick out all those wonderful hidden gems that we get so excited to share with you to help ensure you’ll find them the perfect book.

But right now we’re not in the stores. We’re going digital with our browsing and purchasing, doing virtual displays and events, and now we, as booksellers, are being asked to read digitally as well. The shift makes absolute sense – there are only a handful of commercial printers in the US (shockingly few) that are handling all printing – including new releases and reprints of older popular titles. Getting booksellers their free books is pretty low on the list of priorities for them right now.

I know, this sounds an awful lot like a complaint from someone who is, in reality, still getting free books. But as booksellers, a small but significant part of our work identity is being people who rebelled against the eBook movement – we protest against the giant online retailer who nearly put us out of business with the launch of their eReader that’s now become synonymous with the format.

But we now have to accept the new normal – fewer physical review copies printed, more digital galleys. More online browsing and social distancing, less hunkering down in the bookstore for a few hours, touching book after book, deciding what book to read next when your TBR pile is already a mile high. I can’t help believe that the new normal will force us all in the book industry to sacrifice some of the things that made it so special. But we always say at the store, book people are the best people, and we’ll do what we can and must for the greater good.

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