Friday, March 23, 2007

Early this morning -- before even finishing my first cup of coffee, and those of you who know me will appreciate that significance -- I was reading this Towleroad item on the financial problems facing the United Kingdom's last gay bookstore, Gay's the Word.

This is, of course, a very familiar story. And it's not just limited to gay bookstores, although the simultaneous dumbing down of culture and mainstreaming of gay-oriented literature in major chains make the economic feasibility of gay bookstores especially precarious. The fact is that in these days of the Goliaths -- Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and so on -- the independent bookseller is an endangered species.

Now, as an author, I'm going to get my royalty money whether Amazon sells a book or Lambda Rising sells a book. In fact, I might even sell more books through the major outlets, as titles by gay writers are increasingly shelved with mainstream works. But that's not the point.

The point is that gay bookstores have long offered much more than words on paper to their LGBT communities. They have served as community centers, meeting halls, and portals for those first coming to terms with their sexuality. They are important.

I guess that's why I couldn't let the item on Towleroad pass without comment. Granted, most major gay-oriented blogs are worse than Towleroad -- Andy Towle at least occasionally recognizes that books exist -- but after reading his post and several reader comments, it seems clear that much of the regret is nothing more than lip service.

My take: much as I do appreciate the chain booksellers (and, yes, shop in them from time to time; I just want that to be clear so a don't get stoned by a herd of rogue B&N managers), if -- as a community -- we won't support independent gay bookstores because they can't afford to give us the same deep discounts, we deserve to lose them. We also deserve to be WalMarted in every facet of our consumer lives. Our clothing options should be Gap and Banana Republic, and every meal should come from McDonald's. Use your CitiJPMorganChaseWellsFargo debit card to reserve your room at the Ramada, and don't forget to stop at SuperCuts before your trip.

As the Chinese know, I'm a capitalist. But every good capitalist knows that the bottom line isn't the only important number. There is added value in some things that goes beyond simple numbers... and that is every bit as important as that 10% discount and free bookmark you're getting as a reward for furthering the decline of community culture.

Remember: Reading is Hot! And Reading Books from Independent Gay Bookstores is Sizzling!