Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Essay: Bibliophile on Bookstores 2007

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

There was a time when I visited every bookstore at least once a week, mentally cataloging their titles, and happily going home with a new book in tow, mentally if not physically. There was a time when I'd search the bookstore for my crush, or consoled myself by buying books when I got my heart broken. There was a time--I could ramble on and on but the fact is, that wasn't what happened in 2007. In fact, I drifted away from the bookstores in general. And that's a good thing.

Why a good thing? Perhaps the only reason back then that I was able to visit the various bookstores each week was because there were so few of them. We had what, National Bookstore, Powerbooks, Goodwill Bookstore, and A Different Bookstore? And while in 2007, we mourn the unofficial demise of Goodwill Bookstore and a few independent bookstores, it was also easily the rise of the mainstream bookstores. Whereas Glorietta and The Power Plant Mall used to be the bookstore hub, that paradigm was changed when Fully Booked opened its five-story flagship store in Bonifacio High Street (easily the biggest bookstore in the Philippines) and A Different Bookstore debuted with its main branch/coffee shop in Serendra (both bookstores are located at The Fort--an area I wouldn't ordinarily go to). Not to be outdone, the other mainstream bookstore made several openings at key locations as well: National Bookstore promoted its Best-Sellers line and opened in places like Robinsons Galleria (which already has a National Bookstore branch) and the Power Plant Mall while Powerbooks continues to expand in malls like Shangri-La and Trinoma.

Now I have all the love for independent bookstores (which is why you should support them!) but I don't think anyone is denying that the most convenient place to acquire and discover books are in the mainstream bookstores. And honestly, the mainstream bookstores did something I never expected: they surprised me. For example, National Bookstore/Powerbooks isn't really known for acquiring rare books. Yet in the latter half of the year, me and my fellow bibliophile Banzai Cat was surprised to find them stocking independent press publications like Nightshade Books and Prime Books. Fully Booked on the other hand proved stellar in the comics field. Aside from stocking a veritable collection of indie comic titles to match any comic store, they also increased their stocks of manga titles as well as importing translated manga from other Asian countries. And while I expected them to be involved with Neil Gaiman's arrival (technically it's the Ad Congress who brought him in), the Ben Templesmith signings caught everyone off guard. Personally, A Different Bookstore has also taken in some big chances. I mean they did sponsor the 5th New Worlds Alliance Convention but they were also a second home as they were the venue for several Lit Crit sessions.

That's not to say the independent bookstore market is dead. Booktopia for example is still one of the best places to have not-so-popular authors (at least here in the Philippines) on their shelves. I mean just the other day, I was able to spot books by authors like Jay Lake, A. Lee Martinez, Jim Hines, and a couple of Writers of the Future anthologies--books that I hope mainstream bookstores will pick up but doubt that they will anytime soon. Book auction site on the other hand is easily the cheapest source of Moleskine notebooks, a trend that Fully Booked started at the end of 2006.

Oh, and let's not forget the secondhand/discounted bookshops. There's Buy-The-Book which started popping up in various malls around Metro Manila. I haven't seen an actual physical store but I do see shelves of books at key locations around malls. Honestly, secondhand bookshops aren't my most favorite places to visit (I'm allergic to dust) but it's an alternative for bibliophiles on a budget.

Last but not least is that most bookstores have a web presence nowadays. Allow me to end this post with a couple of links:

National Bookstore
Fully Booked
A Different Bookstore
Goodwill Bookstore
Book Sale
Books for Less

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