Frankly Speaking: The Publisher-Retailer Tug-of-War
Creating a book is one thing; selling is something completely different. Gutenberg was both printer and publisher, as was Aldus, Plantin, Caxton and almost all the early printers. In the 1600s, book publishing, bookmaking and bookselling diverged.
As a kid, I haunted libraries because the books were free, and during the 1950s, I latched on to paperbacks. Most content consisted of the classics because they were in the public domain. Thus I read the classics only because they were 25¢. I bought those paperbacks from a metal rack at the corner Rexall or took the subway to Greenwich Village to visit Paperback Book Smith, a bookstore just for paperbacks.
At Brooklyn College, I bought my used textbooks from Barnes & Noble. One used textbook I bought for a course had every line on every page highlighted. Visiting a proper bookstore meant a trip uptown to Manhattan for Doubleday or Rizzoli, or a stroll to the many bookstores on 4th Ave.
When I got my first job, I spent money on books. I joined the Book of the Month Club and Doubleday Book Club, and loved opening the mail to embrace that monthly hardcover book. Soon bookstores were popping up everywhere, owned and run by colorful proprietors. That's when our family decided to open a bookstore just for mystery novels. The process was facilitated by the wonderful people at Ingram Book Co.
At the same time, the seeds were sown for book superstores. It was not so much their extensive inventory that was a concern, but their discounting. Books are sold to the retailer at a 40-percent discount, and it is hard to exist on margins lower than that. So when Barnes & Noble came to town, the 15-year run of our mystery novel bookstore came to an end, and some of the family went to work for B&N. The American Booksellers Association (ABA) had just sent us a letter congratulating us on reaching 15 years. It was bittersweet. Borders and Books-A-Million became familiar at shopping malls and as large, free-standing stores.