The Mystery of the Disappearing Bookstores

During my 2005 US book tour to promote “The Firemaker”, I visited 15 independent mystery bookstores.  This year just 6 of them are still in business.

The latest to fall by the wayside is Partners & Crime in New York City.  P&C has just announced it is to close its doors, following in the fatal footsteps of another NYC independent, Murder Ink.

Mysteries To Die For in Thousand Oaks, California, closed its doors for the last time last week, while further north in the same State San Mateo’s independent Mystery bookstore, M is for Mystery, closed earlier this year.

Since my last book tour of the US in 2010, the Los Angeles Mystery Bookstore in Westwood has gone under, as has Murder by the Book in Denver.

The San Francisco Mystery Book Store, Kate’s Mystery Books, Cambridge, MA, and High Crimes in Boulder, Colorado, had all closed before then, although High Crimes was still operating an internet service and hosting visiting author events.

This summer Mystery Lovers bookstore in Oakmont, Pittsburgh, PA, changes hands, and one can only wish the new owners the best of luck in the current economic climate.

It’s easy to wax lyrical about the service that the enthusiasts who ran these stores provided for readers by offering good advice and astute recommendations, but speaking from personal experience the hosting they provided for authors will be difficult to replace.

Events run at independent bookstores are an absolute pleasure.  Talks and Q&A sessions take place in an intimate environment, with chairs crammed into small spaces between canyons of books.  The bookstore owners know their customers and encourage them to come along to listen to and meet authors who are new to them.  Fans get the chance to mingle and talk with authors and other readers.  And after the fans have gone home, the author stays on at the bookstore to sign piles of books that the owner then goes on to hand-sell, marketing via newsletters to readers further afield, or who couldn’t come along that night.

Through this countrywide network, a writer who was unknown to American readers, could get on the road and let people know about his work.

I traversed the US, east to west, north to south, and in five years built up a loyal fan base and readership thanks to the work of those independent mystery bookstore owners.  Word-of-mouth recommendations are by far the most effective way of reaching new readers.  However, internet shopping is taking its toll, and I feel that I am now witnessing the end of an era.

In times of financial crisis, who can blame people for wanting to get their books delivered to them more cheaply.   But as controversy rages elsewhere on the net about fake online reviews and manipulation of star ratings by sock puppets, the real loss to all of us, readers and writers alike, is the demise of those passionate booksellers – people you could put a real name and a friendly face to – who would tell you what books they loved, and why they loved them, and who would chat in person with you, the reader, and make recommendations based on your tastes.  Lovely people.  People you could trust.  I’ll miss them.

If you still have an independent bookstore nearby, you owe it to yourself to go out and support it.

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About Author Peter May

International best-selling author of several series of books: the Lewis Trilogy - "The Blackhouse", "The Lewis Man" and "The Chessmen" - The Enzo Files and the China Thrillers, as well as standalone novels including "Entry Island", "Runaway" and "Coffin Road".
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4 Responses to The Mystery of the Disappearing Bookstores

  1. Linda Haynes says:

    Forgive me repeating myself, but last week I visited one of my local book stores ‘Silverdells’ of Kirkham. I will admit, it has been approximately 6 months since my last visit, but I was shock to see such a beautiful shop has given way to a good half of the shop becoming a cafe (they have always sold ice cream, the most wonderful ice cream in the North West) also shelves given way to Thortons Chocolates…… approximately one third of the shop now sells books…. This book shop has entertained the most wonderful authors who have signed their books for the hundreds of people who attend and Silverdells will still attract famous authors because they are known for their very entertaining book signings, but it saddens me to see how much Silverdells have had to succumb to selling other items to make ends meet. Wonderful book shop and wonderful people who own the shop.

    • I’m afraid it’s a sad fact of life, Linda, that paper books are becoming a thing of the past. No halting the march of progress (if that’s what it is). The electronic download is the book of the future, and even the big chains are not immune to it. There used to be two major chains in the US, and now there’s only one.

  2. Carol says:

    It is a sad state of affairs cause there is nothing quite like mooching around a bookshop! It’s good for the soul!

    C x

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