Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Books Galore! An interview with independent bookseller John Gilbert

Today's guest is John Gilbert, owner of Books Galore, an independent bookstore.

Give us some of your background in the book business
I wanted a part-time job in college, and my two interests are music and books.  I applied with a couple of records stores and bookstores, and happened to get hired by the bookstore.  Had it been the other way around, I would probably be an embittered ex-chain record store employee.

How long has your store been in existence?
I opened my store, with considerable help, in June of 1997.  My former boss, at a now-defunct national chain, told me I would be back in 6 months begging for my job.  I'm so glad that it didn't come to that!

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I'm pretty biased, but I realize they're a fact of life.  They're not how I like to read, but I realize many people do.  I'm not a Luddite or anything, but the book as an invention was perfected long ago.  I feel no obligation to get yet another device.

How has the rise of eBooks effected your business?
I'm sure it's hurt.  But I think I never had many of the e-reader owners as customers anyway.  Many people like to buy the newest, latest book and many times we won't have that upon release, or couldn't compete with any of the big chains on price.  I talk to many e-reader owners, and quite a few just want to read, so they'll buy it in any format that they can or both if they're really bookfiends!

What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?
My initial reaction was can't anyone do anything well, earn a living and be satisfied without selling out?  I'm not sure I could resist that money and temptation, but that's what the owners of Goodreads have done.  I sell on Amazon, but I don't want to be a content provider for them.

What is your favorite book of all time?
That's a tough one.  I'd have to include "Where the Wild Things Are" - those illustrations were burned into the grey matter, as an adult, at this moment, I'll say "Confederacy of Dunces".  Many times, with music & books, I find it hard to separate the story behind the book from the actual work.  This one intrigues me on both levels.  I guess I prefer the historical criticism of literature?

What little known book would you like to push on unsuspecting people who come into the store?
You have to be careful with foisting books on unsuspecting readers - books can be dangerous!  I'm sure I told you the reaction I got from a Ludlum reader that received my "Dunces" recommendation?

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
I liken self-publishing to the DIY home recording movement in music: it's the great leveler of the playing field and is about as democratic as can be, maybe socialistic?  But editing, grammar, spelling seem to all have gone out the window.  The number of monkeys with typewriters have increased exponentially!

Any bad author experiences?
Other than a mid-level fantasy author dropping by the last Walden store I managed to insure his titles were faced-out & well-stocked, only holding the hands of some romance authors for two hours at an ill-attended autographing.  But most have been very pleasant.

What's the weirdest thing you've found inside a book?
Weirdest thing in a book?  Toss-up between a finely pressed pot leaf, or the amateur porn shot from WWII era.

Any advise for people thinking of opening a brick and mortar book store?
Advice?  Do it!  We need more of them.  By all means, start by getting a part-time job in the industry, if possible, there's a learning curve, and that curve continues for ever, so don't think you know the ropes.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! On everything ebook, I love my little Kobo, but I still want the feel of a real book sometimes too. And it's not just the acquiring and reading of the print book, it's the browsing and discovery process.

    This is what I love most about the physical bookshop -- it's an opportunity to get lost in the stacks/aisles/piles and uncover an unexpected treasure!