Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bookstore Monopoly

I don't know about other countries and that's why I'm curious but in the Philippines, until a few years ago, the bookstore market was monopolized by two bookstore chains: National Bookstore and Goodwill Bookstore (and the roots of both bookstores can be traced to the same clan). If you had eclectic tastes, the only other alternative was through the secondhand bookstores, namely Book Sale, which had a similar monopoly.

Living under the regime of Book Sale wasn't so bad--because of its nature, the book selections at Book Sale were as diverse as it was arbitrary. In that sense, that market wasn't truly monopolized. But if you wanted brand new books--and most people bought new books instead of scrounging through someone else's discards, you inevitably landed at the doorstep of the two bookstore giants.

Bear in mind that this was a time when overseas calls were expensive (they still are), at a time when modems weren't accessible to the majority (and let's not even talk about how scarce computer memory was back then), and the country lived under a paranoid regime of martial law (and rightly so) so ordering books abroad wasn't a convenient option.

At this point, reading material was truly limited to what National Bookstore and Goodwill Bookstore imported. Perhaps the extremes of this example was what Dean was joking about during the last Lit Crit session: If you were a fan of fantasy, you bought the fantasy novels the bookstore stocked, even if they were horrible ones. It's not like you had a choice--those were the only titles available. I remember being such a victim and is the only reason why I have something like four dozen Dragonlance novels at home during that month in 2000 when National Bookstore stocked the complete line (I plead insanity!).

Thankfully, these days, there's a bunch of bookstores to choose from. Better yet, one has the choice of conveniently (relatively) ordering a book if it's not on store shelves. There's also as a last-ditch effort (but I don't recommend it, not because it's inefficient, but because there are other, cheaper methods) or for the unethical, illegal downloads off the Internet (or legal ones if you're the type who purchases eBooks).

So for those readers who weren't born in the 90's, I have to ask, how has the local bookstore shaped your reading choices? I mean as a kid, I was reading and Choose Your Own Adventure and Tom Swift because it was readily available in the bookstores. Maybe I would have picked up Tolkien had I spotted the entire trilogy in bookstores. Or C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, or Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, or Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlen or the many other "classic" genre authors out there. Heck, I'll even settle for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had it been readily available back then.

I won't even mention the public libraries--they're good for academic material, not so good for fiction. I was fortunate to have studied in a private school (which is a big difference here in the Philippines) that had an adequate library although if truth be told, I wasn't exactly someone who maximized our school library (but I did loan a book or two).

What are you reading now? Where did you pick it up? How much did you pay for it (if any... bribing friends counts)? Has the local bookstore made a difference, or has your disposable income opened alternate avenues?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Um, let's see.

Well, here in the US, we used to have lots and lots of different kinds of bookstores. But in the late 90s and in the new millennium, chains like Barnes & Nobles and Borders rose in number and pretty much started wiping out all the independent bookstores. And that's why US publishing is crazy in that the midlist is shrinking because chains like B&N and Borders restocks books based on what their computers tell them. It's why novels will vanish off the shelves after 3 months and you'll never see another novel from that author again, and why American authors lose their minds about the sales of their first novel.

Frex: Say B&N stocks 5 copies of a debut novel. The store sells 3. The remaining two get stripped (or remaindered, depending) and the computer locks in their sellthrough as 60%. So if they ordered 5 copies of their first book, that means they'll order 3 copies of their second one. And then 1 of their third.

See the problem for the fourth?

That's why many, many fantasy authors vanish from sight after that first trilogy. Or they might switch to a new publisher. Or they might go small or independent press. Or you can only find their books online. Frex, I have NEVER seen a Caitlin Kiernan book on a Borders bookshelf.

Growing up, though, I spent tons and tons of time in public libraries. That's why I've read lots of classic, old school fantasy authors. My libraries were not so good at keeping up to date on genre fantasy but they were great with classics.