Dog-Eared and Dispatched: November 3, 2013Happy November, literary citizens! In this rundown of the wild world of book culture, it’s all about remembering your roots. The Boston-based non-profit Grub Street kicks things off this week with their joint proposal for a literary cultural district in the heart of the city. Next up, the American Booksellers Association is at it again, co-launching a coalition known as the Advocates for Independent Business, founded by and for supporters of independent and locally-owned organizations. Lastly, Amazon Publishing begins to see the effects of a shutout by Barnes and Noble, causing some members of the publishing industry to reconsider the value of bookstore exposure.
Art districts are common landmarks in major cities across the globe, but what about an explicitly designated literary district? This is the proposal currently being drafted by the bookish citizens of Boston with the help of a $42,500 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. At the forefront of this initiative is Grub Street, the U.S.’s second largest independent center for creative writing, with other organizations like the Boston Public Library, the Boston Athenaeum, the City of Boston, The Drum magazine, and the Boston Book Festival heavily invested in the project. Grub Street Executive Director Eve Bridburg highlighted Boston’s vibrant literary history and present rebirth as the impetus for the project, stating, “Home to historical literary figureheads such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Boston is currently undergoing a literary renaissance. Stars like James Carroll, Steven Pinker, Tom Perrotta and Anita Shreve work here, alongside top-notch publishers like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Beacon Press.” If given the go-ahead, this district would earn the distinction of being the first of its kind in the United States. The perimeter of the district has been slated to include the Boston Public Library; the Athenaeum; Washington Street, former stomping grounds of many Boston newspapers and literary magazines; Beacon Hill, where such poets as Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes once inhabited; and the Public Garden, home to the famous Make Way for Ducklings sculpture that pays tribute to Robert McCloskey’s popular children’s book. Tentatively scheduled for completion in 2015, the district would include walking tours, literary street art, interactive installations, and perhaps even an audio story app to accompany visitors as they traverse its various routes. “I see it as a Broadway for writers,” Drum Editor Henriette Lazaridis Power told The Boston Globe. “The way Broadway is a loosely defined geographic area of New York and everyone knows that’s where you go to find theater, this is a place where people who want to take in writing in the forms of events will go, and writers will find resources there.” [Shelf Awareness, The Boston Globe, GalleyCat]
This past year, the literary community has witnessed a resurgence in support for independent bookstores and publishers, and this week proves no different with the launch of Advocates for Independent Business , an alliance of trade associations and other groups who are invested in the success of independent companies. Spearheaded by the American Booksellers Association, this coalition includes the American Independent Business Alliance, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, Independent Running Retailers Association, National Bicycle Dealers Association, Professional Association of Innkeepers International, and Record Store Day. This group of seven hopes to incorporate several more organizations into their fold in the coming weeks, offering membership to any independent, locally-owned businesses. “This is an exciting moment,” said Stacy Mitchell, program director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the organization that is coordinating AIB’s work. “Building a national coalition will give independent businesses a stronger voice on critical public policy issues. It will also provide a great way for these organizations to share ideas and develop new strategies and programs to help their members thrive.” [American Booksellers Association, Shelf Awareness]
Brick-and-mortar bookstores may be fighting a seemingly impossible battle against Amazon, but this clearly hasn’t stopped them from trying to undermine the massive online retailer any way they can. Early this year, Barnes and Noble made industry history by refu sing to carry any titles put forth by Amazon Publishing . Joining the ranks of several independent bookstores across the nation, Barnes and Noble argued that if it couldn’t sell the digital version of a book, it wouldn’t sell the print version either. Of course, Amazon had no intention of granting Barnes and Noble the rights to sell its digital productions. And while Amazon Publishing has continually downplayed the effect of such a shutout, its fourth quarter earnings and the announcement of Larry Kirshbaum’s upcoming departure may indicate the lingering value of bookshop exposure. As Forbes‘s Tim Worstall put it, “The basic point is that in order to get such a general interest title going you really need it to be on those front tables in the bookstore. Sure, you can work with the recommendation algorithms on Amazon (or other sites of course) so that you can alert known sci-fi readers to some new sci-fi and so on. But for a book that you’re trying to get hundreds of thousands to millions to read on a general subject, this just doesn’t work.” [The Daily Beast, NPR, Forbes]