Big Box Killed the Pot and Book

December 27, 2006 at 6:18 pm 26 comments

My small town was once a bustling community producing some of the world’s finest art and functional pottery.  The train ran through twice a day, shipping this ware by the car load all across the country.  Our residents were all working and spending their money right here at local stores.  Their tax dollars went straight to parks, roads and the school in our neighborhood. 

The first blow to the pottery industry came from foreign imports.  They were so good at copying our patterns they could have knock-offs out within days of the original hitting the shelf.  The second blow came with highway improvements that made getting into the city so much easier.  The killing blow was the creation of the “big box”, who took advantage of  both those things: easy access and cheap foreign imports.  Our potteries couldn’t compete with the price and American’s started settling for second best…or worse. 

The book industry is facing a similar fate.  Today I read of yet another independent book store that’s closed its doors forever, unable to compete with the big discount bookstores like B&N or Borders on top of thebooks.jpg internet options.  It seems people want that best selling page turner for $6.95 or they’ll just skip reading altogether. 

There is nothing I love more than small bookstores run by knowledgeable people who genuinely love books.  If you’re a small publishing company or a new writer (who isn’t royalty, an actor or an axe murderer), those are the kinds of bookstores that give you a chance.  They help you build readership.  They don’t have the shelf space or the traffic to mass order their books so how do they compete with Amazon, who immediately discounts every book 40%?  They don’t, they suffer the fate of my pottery factories.  Unless they step up and try something new.

The internet is here to stay, along with Amazon, and all the other virtual “big boxes” that will crop up in the future.  I care first about keeping people reading, if the only way to do that is making books cheap, its up to companies like mine to figure out how to keep the quality of the writing high and the presentation inexpensive. 

As for me, I like my books with dust covers and sturdy covers.  I read ’em in the tub and carry them with me everywhere – they have to have some constructional substance to them.  I keep them on shelves where they’re  handy for yanking down to pull out a quote.  I like the smell of new books.  I’ll pay for this kind of quality. 


Entry filed under: Social commentary.

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26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Stacy  |  December 27, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    Amen! I love a bargain, but price is (usually) no object when it comes to books. There really aren’t any small independent book sellers around here that I can think of, but there are a couple of second-hand shops that I love….more places where collectors store their books and part with one now and then to keep from being totally overwhelmed.

  • 2. Hayden  |  December 27, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    People fail to understand the connection between their own prosperity and shopping near home at local businesses. It really frustrates me to see the total lack of comprehension. I continue to hope that with time the majority will get a glimmer and begin to make that link.

  • 3. katcampbell  |  December 27, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    Stacy – I have no independent bookstores within 60 miles of my house. It makes me really sad.

    Hayden – My town used to comfortably support two grocery stores, clothing, carpet, a bowling alley and a theater. We’re down to one grocery store. Its very disheartening on many levels. The crunch on our local economy plus the fact people don’t feel worthy of the quality and service that comes with local purchasing.

  • 4. Quilldancer  |  December 27, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    Me, too, Kat. When I was 6 years old and my Gram wouldn’t take me to the library, I walked several miles by myself to get to those books.

  • 5. Hammer  |  December 28, 2006 at 12:01 am

    I like the used book stores. Hard cover books are too bulky for me but I’ll read em if thats all there is.

    I collect pottery and I’ve noticed that the chinese imports are terrible compared to the Ohio makers and local artisans I usually by from.

  • 6. katcampbell  |  December 28, 2006 at 2:01 am

    Quilly – Since we moved MANY times when I was growing up, the library was my sanctuary. Everyone was always nice to me there and I could disappear into another world with the turn of a page.

    Hammer – Pap and I collect brown ware – working man’s pottery, it was made fast and cranked out by the thousands and still it is better quality than anything Chna or Japan has ever made.

  • 7. Catch  |  December 28, 2006 at 3:45 am

    I love books…my house is full of them. I have ordered some from Amazon. If the book is good I would pay full price though.

  • 8. Mr. Fabulous  |  December 28, 2006 at 4:04 am

    Where I grew up, in Northampton, MA, there were a number of independent bookstores. I wonder if they are still there…

  • 9. jackie  |  December 28, 2006 at 6:42 am

    Kat, the independent book stores in the small town around us are all gone now, too. I wonder too, if fewer people are reading now with the internet, books on tape, DVDs, etc. etc.?

  • 10. katcampbell  |  December 28, 2006 at 6:44 am

    Catch – Amazon is a fact of life. I wouldn’t mind so much if the cost of making a book would come down. We have to price things so high to get around the discount that it sometimes hurts our authors.

    Mr. Fab – You’re a writer… this problem will affect you eventually.

  • 11. Twobuyfour  |  December 28, 2006 at 7:05 am

    I’m with you. I like my books hardbound and close by. I like to see them, reread them, small them, and feel them. You can’t do thosethings with a paperback, let alone a pc.

  • 12. Twobuyfour  |  December 28, 2006 at 7:06 am

    SMELL. I like to SMELL books, not small them. Sorry.

  • 13. katcampbell  |  December 28, 2006 at 7:57 am

    Jackie – People are reading in different ways, that’s an additional burden on the independent bookstores. I care most that people READ. So its affordable ways to create all the different mediums that my company needs to find.

    Two Buy – I read it smell even before you corrected it! Isn’t the brain a tricky thing!

  • 14. smileymama  |  December 28, 2006 at 8:28 am

    Hi there, been a while. I love the photos. I, too, have a deep and resounding love of books, my whole life long… Old and new, doesn’t matter. I love to wander slowly through a small, kinda cluttered, kinda dark, wonderful bookstore. If only there were more of them. How very sad…makes us think twice about ordering books online, doesn’t it….now where’s the mystery and anticipation in that? It’s just not the same.

  • 15. cindra  |  December 28, 2006 at 11:45 am

    As much as possible, I go to my local bookstores where the owners know my name and share the same passion of books.

  • 16. katcampbell  |  December 28, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Hi smileymama – definately behind in my visiting with all the holidays. I wish we still had some dark, cluttered bookstores here.

    Cindra – How lucky you are that you still have some. I try to imagine how overwhelming it would be for someone who hasn’t immersed themselves in books to walk into a B & N and try to find something. Scary.

  • 17. The Rev. Dr. Kate  |  December 28, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    I am sow ith you on this Kat! I always have at least three books in progress at once and carry them with me wherever I go. I love to poke around in small bookstores – and there is a used book shop near me that I love as well. Nothing beats the smell of a bookstore, a knowledgeable owner who likes to chat and the anticipation of opening the cover of your latest treasure. I spent yesterday buying new book shelves because mine are full and the books were piling up on the floor!

  • 18. Gawpo  |  December 28, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    I was a production potter for several years. Like maybe 12. Speaking of a dozen, I would knock out soup bowls in 50 seconds and mugs in a minute. Before slipcasting, all the big potteries were major productions of handthrown ware. Incredible stuff. Perfection on masse scale. Yes, sad to see them go. The closing of a bookstore is a closing of a chapter. As Linda Ellerby use to close: “And so it goes…”

  • 19. Gawpo  |  December 28, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    ….50 seconds and a minute for each piece. but i would throw them by the dozen. always a dozen. don’t know why. four dozen. six dozen. by the dozen. now dozen that sound better?

  • 20. katcampbell  |  December 28, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    Dr. Kate – There is nothing that can replace the feel of a new book. I fear that if we don’t teach this to the new generation, they will be saying “there’s nothing like the look of a new link”.

    Gawpo – Working hard for the money, pottery making. But like great books, there’s nothing like it!

  • 21. bobciz  |  December 29, 2006 at 3:05 am

    I can’t imagine a life without books–hardcovers, paperbacks, old, new, fat, thin–it doesn’t matter to me what shape they come in as long as the pages between the covers are filled with words that move me somehow. Sad, but true, even here in a big city there are very few small independent bookstores any longer. While I also lament their passing, I still am thankful that B&N and Borders provide an outlet for real books that you can hold in your hands or rest in your lap and fall asleep over. A book is a treasure no matter where you get it. Just get it.

  • 22. Shelli  |  December 29, 2006 at 4:16 am

    I just love any bookstore. For the longest time, it was a long ride to get to a bookstore. Now we have a Borders. I know it is the Big Box that you speak of, but were it not for them, I wouldn’t be able to easily hold a new book in my hand and smell the fresh print. I wouldn’t be able to experience the thrill of walking in there, alone, and having all the time in the world to peruse all the books that I want to peruse. I look for those small bookstores, but I can’t find them anymore.

  • 23. katcampbell  |  December 29, 2006 at 6:28 am

    B & N, Borders and even Amazon are absolutely better than nothing, Bob & Shelli. What I love are books. I’m not slamming the “big box” book store, from a readers point of view, they make my habit affordable with discounts and sales. But as a writer, its a different story. We may have to revisit this topic!

  • 24. Janet  |  December 30, 2006 at 7:49 am

    I worked in a wonderful, small used bookstore. People would come in and ask for the latest bestsellers. I loved it there-I memorized almost everything on the shelves and even found a couple I wanted to take home. Lack of business made it close-that and probably the fact we didn’t have bestsellers, and limited parking on the street.

    I don’t buy many hardcovers new, but I do like the smell and the feel of being the first person to read it, the library is wonderful but sometimes I get turned off finding people’s hair or old food in the books.

  • 25. sunfloweroptimism  |  December 30, 2006 at 10:29 am

    I had to chuckle, reading the comments by everyone who said they loved books. Why am I not surprised that bloggers love to read? LOL Of course, I’ve been a reader since birth, or thereabouts 😉 Love my books.

    We have a great bookstore a couple of towns over – a real one, always have authors coming in, discussion groups going, knowledgeable staff – I wonder how much longer they will last? I remember they managed to snag JK Rowling for an author visit, after her first HP book. What a coup!

    As for the pottery – I love the old salt glaze – can’t make that in China! Well, they probably can, but it’s NOT the same.

  • 26. guyana-gyal  |  December 31, 2006 at 2:53 am

    I was reading, in a newspaper from England, how the folks from one village or small town, kept a big, big, big mall…or was it a supermarket…from being built. People power.


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