Friday, July 18, 2008

Should Your Local Bookstore Take Sides in the Political Debate?

Robert Gray at Shelf Awareness has an interesting article in today's installment about politics at local bookstores. Gray polled two booksellers to get their views on the topic.

Diane Van Tassel (Bay Books, San Ramon and Concord, Calif.):
Political views--mine or my staff's--have no business in the bookstore. When we hire people, we tell them to leave their politics at home. Our customers are probably evenly divided between people who would buy Michael Moore and Al Franken books and those who buy Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly books. It would be unreasonable for me to decide that only liberals or only conservative books would be stocked in my store. A one-sided store would quickly lose customers to a store that had a balanced section with a wide range of titles from both the right and the left. Which would you rather frequent--a bookstore with a limited and biased point-of-view or a bookstore that has an unlimited supply of books from multiple angles? So it seems that taking sides on any issue would mean that some of your customers would be unhappy with your choices and that would not be good for business--or freedom of speech. We are in the business of selling books; our stock and our displays reflect opposing points of view. Customers are free to follow their own leanings and desires--not ones that we are pushing onto them.

Casey Coonerty Protti (owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz):
The main goal at Bookshop Santa Cruz is to reflect our community and since Santa Cruz is an active political town we definitely take politics into consideration when ordering. That doesn't mean that we don't stock all points of view (as we have carried books by Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly as well as conservative magazines), but we feature and order more titles that are progressive than conservative. Progressive titles and items reflect our community and sell better as well. This strategy has been important to us for many reasons: 1) we've created a strong brand around reflecting our community (which has ultimately served us well), 2) it is something that our staff believes in and 3) it has bolstered our publicity and our sales. I respect stores that don't want to take a position, but taking positions has played a huge role in keeping us alive and well so I think it should be a store-by-store decision.

Personally, I enjoy my relatively politics-free local bookstore, Brazos Bookstore, and I am more persuaded by Van Tassel's position than Protti's.

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