There’s a great article by Janaka Stucky over at The Poetry Foundation called “How to Survive in the Age of Amazon: If indie bookstores can’t beat the online giant’s prices, what can they do?” on independent bookstores and the battle against Amazon. The article is persuasive not only because Stucky (editor of the popular indie press Black Ocean) outlines how Amazon actually affects presses and authors, but because his pitch to independent bookstores (and consumers and visitors of independent bookstores) to cater to a poetry-reading audience offers not only advice to these shops in how to be prominent culture-bearers for local communities but a compelling rationale (and for once a not-so-dismal approach) for the state of poetry and poetry-readers in the digital age. He writes:
People who read poetry are the unsung customer base for independent bookstores: they are avid readers, they love books as physical objects, they will religiously attend author readings, they read books on a variety of subjects, and they buy more books annually than anyone else I know. By catering to the type of person who reads poetry, these successful bookstores have perhaps unwittingly remained focused on what devoted patrons of bookstores really value: variety over homogeneity, literature over media, humanity over technology, and community over price. By being the type of bookstore that poetry readers will go out of their way to visit, and by being a third place in our social lives that fosters community and human interaction, these stores have become—through the nuanced fact of their physical being—something that Amazon, by its very business model, is the antithesis of: a space where we experience history, and thus also time.
At first glance, the idea of “catering to poetry” may seem like a hard sell. After all, “no one reads poetry anymore,” and the truth is no one ever really did. Poetry books will remain a paltry portion of the market for a long time, but the people who read poetry will continue to spend hours browsing the aisles of their local bookstore—smartphones tucked quietly away in their coat pockets. If bookstores can learn to embrace these odd readers as secret representatives of the type of person who’s at the core of their customer base, rather than get sucked into a doomed downward spiral of price slashing on the latest best-selling hardcover, they will remain relevant and attractive to the customers they need in order to survive. Poetry, the least profitable and most esoteric of all the genres, can save the bookstore.