15 November 10 | Chad W. Post

So, according to Neil Van Uum, president of the Joseph-Beth Booksellers chain, which recently filed for bankruptcy, most indie bookstores aren’t long for this world:

Van Uum said the bankruptcy’s roots came in the summer when the company began “to run a little bit sideways” on some of the terms of its loans.

“I recognized we needed to do something,” he said.
While the company’s bankruptcy protection doesn’t specify its exact debt, its top 30 creditors are owed more than $5.8 million. The majority of that — $3.55 million — is owed to book company Ingram. [. . .]

Van Uum said the bankruptcy traces to a number of factors, including the tattered economy and increasing Internet sales. The chain has seen declining sales for the last five years.

“I think in the next three to five years, you’ll see half the bookstores in this country close,” he said.

Barnes & Noble, the country’s largest bookseller, put itself up for sale in August and has struggled for years with declining sales. It’s pinned hopes on initiatives including its Nook electronic reader.

“There’s a lot of fixed overhead in the book business, especially with stores as complex as ours,” Van Uum said.

He’s probably right, and that definitely sucks . . . Not for the sale and distribution of books necessarily, but for the culture of reading and book appreciation that underpins all great indie bookstores, which tend to be staffed by people who actually read too much and like to talk about books and the wonders of literature. Announcements like these make the America of Super Sad True Love Story, in which books are considered to be “smelly, outdated products,” seem like a distinct possibility.

But the real cause of J-B’s downfall? Not enough Open Letter titles.


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