Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thinking About Tomorrow

Today's second customer wants to know why "Vancouver bookstores suck." She's buying books, and says, "Don't get me wrong, I like your store. I buy stuff here all the time. But other than that I'll save my money and go to the States." She says, "I live in Vancouver, and I buy thousands of dollars of books a year, but I spend most of my money in Seattle or Portland. Why is that? Any thoughts?"

Well, yes, a few:

1. There are exactly two good new bookstores in town (Duthies on 4th Avenue and the Book Warehouse ably managed by my pal Elinor on Davie Street). Hager Books on 41st Avenue is good but tiny, and Banyen Books has an amazing collection of Eastern Studies, esoteria and self-sufficiency titles hidden off among the scarves, Nag Champa, whale music CDs and crystals. None of these stores matches the selection available at Powell's, Third Place Books, the Elliott Bay Book Company, or the University of Washington bookstore. Fewer good new bookstores in town equals comparatively fewer good new books with a hope of becoming equally good used books.

2. Canadian new book distributors make me want to light my face on fire. One local distributor has a habit of ordering interesting new titles, then arbitrarily de-listing them the moment they start to sell. They also make a habit of carrying a single backlist title by a major author, apparently picked at random, but none of their other titles. So I can order Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which I sell one or two copies of a month, but not his Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which reliably sells four or five copies a week.

3. "Canadian rights." The US has nice mass market paperback editions of desirable science fiction and fantasy (Terry Pratchett; Scott Lynch; Steve Erickson; M. John Harrison). All of these are NCR: No Canadian Rights. Lucky Canadians get to order expensive UK trade paperbacks -- at approximately time-and-a-half to double the cost of the US titles -- from flaky Ontario distributors who seem to order the books from the UK two or three at a time. Thus the UK edition of Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens, one of Pulpfiction's best-selling titles ever since we started carrying new books, has been backordered at Random House since the 29th of December. When is Good Omens coming? "When we receive backstock from the UK," says Random House customer service. When might that be? Don't ask; they don't know and apparently don't care.

4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc. Coming soon. Right after I special-order Kafka on the Shore.

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