Indies Under Fire: better than the trailer?

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A few months ago, I posted about what was, at the time, an upcoming screening of the film Indies Under Fire sponsored by Kepler’s. Based on the film’s trailer, which I watched online, I wrote that it looked to be “another sentimental, corporate-bashing look at indie bookstores that refuses to do the hard work of pointing a critical eye at indies themselves and asking why the independent bookselling business has been stagnant and so incredibly slow to innovate or pioneer new business practices over the past few decades.” I recently received a comment from a reader who thought I might not have written that had I actually seen the film.

I did attend the screening, and though the film is slightly more nuanced than I had expected, its implied argument is that Borders and the corporate booksellers led to the demise of Printer’s Inc. in Palo Alto. I grew up down the street from Printer’s Inc., and must note that it wasn’t a particularly good bookstore. When compared to the other big indie bookstores in the Bay Area–Cody’s, Kepler’s, ACWLP, Book Passage, Green Apple, etc.–Printer’s rated very low in my book.

Although the sentimental view of the indie bookstore getting killed by the heartless, bland corporate bookseller certainly appeals to people’s emotions, it seems that indie bookstores are really responsible for their own survival. Berkeley’s Nydia MacGregor wrote a paper in which she argued that the presence of chain stores has little effect on the sales of independent bookstores in the same area as long as the local community is engaged and the independent store provides them with a unique identity. She writes:

Independent booksellers link consumers with an identity that connects to a more differentiated self-concept, that fits within a narrower social group. Given the complementary nature of the relationship between these two organizational forms and the differentiated resources that they demand, branch store openings will not negatively affect the baseline survival rates of independent stores, even when they enter into the same community.

In short, the relationship that Indies Under Fire suggests between Borders and Printer’s Inc. is flat out wrong. Printer’s Inc. killed itself.

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