Sunday, January 16, 2011

The New Reality Claims an Old Friend

On January 31, one of the great independent bookstores in the country, Mystery Bookstore of L.A., will close its doors, yet another victim of the new economic and publishing realities.

It's almost inconceivable that the greatest noir city in the world is losing such a good friend to the mystery and suspense community. 

I had the privilege of launching the first book of my Ty Buchanan series, Try Dying, at Mystery Bookstore. And was further honored to be on their list of authors signing books at the L.A. Times Festival each year (though if you want a lesson in humility, try signing at the same time as Mary Higgins Clark or Robert Crais).

Scores of authors owe a great debt to the longtime managers of the store, Bobby McCue and Linda Brown, and the fine staff who love books and hand-selling to customers. Top names made the store a must for their signings. I caught up with our own Michelle Gagnon there last year, and I've seen Deaver and Crais and Connelly and Jeff Parker and John Lescroart and a bunch of others at the store. The pre-Festival party for the Times event was always a highlight, the store stuffed with writers and readers and good cheer.

Virtually every reader of this blog, I'll wager, knows of a fine local bookstore that's closed. My son's favorite bookstore, The Little Old Bookshop in Whittier, announced its closing a couple of weeks ago.

It's the reality of hard economic times and the huge change in the publishing industry vis-à-vis e-books. There is no changing the facts. Like the era of the passenger train and the 10¢ donut, there may be small remnants and reminders of the past. But the day of the thriving independents is coming to a close.

The Mystery Bookstore will have a presence online, and that is where most used books will be sold now. What we'll miss is the ability to physically browse, hear from the staff what books they like, and that feeling of community good books can create.

So it's a melancholy time here in L.A. among writers. I got together with some friends in the local MWA chapter the other day, when the news hit. We were all cut to the heart.

I don't know what else to say. This is kind of a downer blog post, I guess. But I just had to mention the passing of an old friend.

Maybe tonight raise a glass to independent bookstores and the people who love them. 


  1. My heart aches for people who are in a line of business for a long time that has to close due to changing times. I mean I know that's the free market system at work and all that, but it still hurts your heart for them.

    It must be very hard to start over in something new or drastically retool your business.

  2. It's not just sad for the stores--the loss of indies is a major loss for the author community. Independent bookstores such as The Mystery Bookstore have always played a major role in getting new authors known to the public. By promoting authors via hand selling and word-of-mouth, they're incubators for the bestsellers of tomorrow.

    Where will the people behind the indies go? Probably on line, but it sure won't be the same.

    Authors need to address this erosion of community support, or we'll all be in a bigger pickle than we are now.


  3. my favorite indie book store is the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Az. i don't want to think of it closing. as technology takes over a lot of aspects of our also takes the intimacies away seeing a friend's handwriting on paper...hearing someone's voice's too easy to do that with email, texting, etc. so i continue using the 'dinosaurs' of commication ...hoping it's giving a little joy at the other end.

  4. ok, that's communication...forgot my spell check!

  5. kathy, I'm acquainted with that great bookstore as well. Perhaps the dynamic will vary from community to community. Los Angeles is a hard retail district.

  6. Most Indy bookstores were owned by people who just loved books, and their customers were the same kind of people. Selling was bout talking about books, new and old. "If you liked this, try that." Indies knew their customers the way store owners knew their customers in stores all over America. The big boxes have killed downtown America and mom and pop shops are a thing of the past. People traded off low price and their mailboxes took the place of counters. Most workers in box stores see books as units. Loyalty to a specific store is a thing of the past. We bought every Beatles album as they came out. Kids now don't buy that way. God I could spend my days grouching and whining about damned near everything. wait a minute, that's what I do. Never mind.

  7. Reminds me of the movie, You've Got Mail. I still cry when I watch that part where Meg Ryan turns back and looks at the inside of the store when it's all ready to close up and visualizes dancing (twirling:)) with her mom who owned the store before she did.
    Sorry for the loss of The Mystery Bookstore.

  8. The news of this store's closing was a serious gut punch. It is hands down one of my favorites. I'm going to try to be there on the 31st for the final send-off.

  9. This was such a great store and its closing is serious loss. For new authors these indies were a lifeline - it's sad to see so many closing.

  10. It's depressing news because the whole world of publishing is changing and store closings are only one result. Authors are having less opportunities for browser impulse sales with the number of bookstores diminishing. With ebooks, we don't even have a physical book anymore. What does this mean for booksignings? No store and no book. Then how are we to distinguish ourselves as authors? Online marketing may be the key, but it's incredibly time consuming, and there's nothing like going in person to meet your fans at the local bookstore and signing copies of your book in print. The stores that survive might be the ones with a strong Web presence.

  11. I noted the closure in Publishers Weekly last week. In the same issue was the news of The National Network eliminating six sales staff positions, and Borders closing the remainder of their distribution center in LaVergne, TN. It's the loss of the indies that saddens me.

    I'm in Vancouver, Canada, and here the last of eight independent Duthie bookstores is closing next month. Duthies is a 50 year icon in our city. Another small family owned indie, Blackberry Books, has operated over 30 years on Granville Island in the heart of the city and seems to be making it, maybe because of the tourist and residential traffic drawn to that area.

    The loss of independent bookstores not only hurts the sellers and authors, but also the readers. In the long term it's bound to affect the literary culture of our cities, too.

  12. No doubt, Jim, and I hate to hear that, especially given the intimate connection you had with the store. I frequent a couple of indie bookstores here in metro Denver. Another one, which found a home not two years ago here in Golden, CO, had to shut its doors this month.

    Part of me feels guilty, as I buy a lot from Amazon these days and also have a Kindle. Seems my purchases here and there with the locals wasn't enough. Bummer.

  13. I'm sorry to hear. It always breaks my heart to see a business having to shut their doors. Especially if it is a bookstore.

    It's really too bad that the economy had to come to this. I know I did a book signing at the Borders in the mall in my hometown and they closed last year. It was a shock and a huge dissapointment to me. I was wanting to be a guest later when I break in for my debut novel:)