The idea for this post had its origins in an opinion piece written by author Ann Patchett on the Author's Guild website. Patchett, author of books such as Bel Canto and State of Wonder, co-owns Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN. In the piece she lamented the fact that President Obama bypassed the bookstore when he visited the Amazon facility in Chattanooga, two hours away. Obama met with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who had also been all over the news following his purchase of The Washington Post.
In the December 2012 issue of Atlantic Monthly, Patchett described her experience running a bookstore in the age of Amazon (read it here). That's the topic I wanted to discuss with the owners of the neighborhood's two independent bookstores. Part 1 is my interview with Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books, and her take on the subject. I'll post the interview with Big Sleep's Ed King in the next day or so.
Right off the bat Kris Kleindienst said she is tired of people asking her about Amazon - "The idea of bookstores dying is annoying and ridiculous," she said.
Kris continued with the following remarks which I've summarized below:
"The publishing industry has been decimated by Amazon which has revolutionized book selling by figuring out how to sell books less expensively. Way too much power has been concentrated in one company. It has also had an impact on publishers who previously had more leeway to develop authors, but now have been forced to cut staff. Kris said that Left Bank Books gets calls frequently from authors who have self-published on Amazon asking about holding an author event at the store. Left Bank is not interested."
What is especially hard for Kris to witness is people who come into her store, browse the shelves and then pull out their phones to order a book on Amazon. She is so used to this type of activity that when she spied a woman using her phone recently she assumed the customer was ordering a book online, until she heard her say: "You won't believe this place, when you finish unpacking, get over here! There is a fabulous bookstore in your new neighborhood!"
Kris hopes that this interview will get the word out to the neighborhood that Left Bank Books is alive and well. It takes the same number of clicks to order a book or e-book (yes they carry e-books) from Left Bank Books' website. If just 1% of the books purchased online by people who live in the neighborhood were bought at one of the neighborhood bookstores, the economic impact would be much different. It's believed that shopping local triples the economic impact for the neighborhood...wages are paid to people who work here, eat out here, and shop here. Local sales tax stays in the city too.
Unlike bookstores, Amazon is not involved in the community. They don't hold book fairs at schools or bring an author to town for a reading. In fact, over the years Left Bank Books has made St. Louis a "go to" town for authors. The two locations (CWE and Downtown) host author events most nights of the year. Left Bank Books brought Joe Mohr, above, author of Robot + Bike = Kitten to the Central West End for a reading mid-August.
One of Kris' favorite Left Bank memories is a last-minute reading the week following 9/11 when planes were grounded and people were stranded around the country. She got a call from Deepak Shopra's publisher saying he was in Chicago and wanted to rent a car and drive to St. Louis. Would they be interested in holding a reading that Friday? When word got out, and this is before social media was so prevalent, 200 people stood shoulder-to-shoulder to hear Shopra speak. It was a non-religious spiritual gathering everyone needed at that moment. Kris asked the rhetorical question, "Could Amazon have done that?"
Kris closed our interview by saying, "If you can order a pizza you can order a book from Left Bank Books." Keep that in mind the next time you are browsing the internet looking for something to read.
Finally, Ann Patchett will be in St Louis November 14, location to be announced. She has such a following, the reading will be held off-site.
Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, (314) 367-6731.