The book publishing industry is going in a lot of different directions right now. Given the uneveness and increasing instability of the societies served by the long-form text, not only in terms of business climate but in areas of technology, consumer economics, and subcultural trends, it makes sense that the industry will stay in fractured flux for quite some time.
Against these conditions there appears this article about independent bookstores in Madison and Dane County from the Cap Times. It cheers greatly to read local media giving some love to our area’s small bookstores. But the author only scratched the surface. With each having a different story behind it, the article could have profiled other stores for a much longer article, easily. I do appreciate that the writer featured Arcadia Books (not to be confused with Arcadian Press). I had not known about this place and it looks terrific—judging from the website it strikes me as one of those semi-idyllic crapshoot businesses that are simply done well enough to make it. I am going to find an excuse to go to Spring Green.
Disappointingly, the author did not include any mention of Rainbow. Neither did he make note of the second-hand shops and discounters. Frugal Muse, Half-Price Books, and Stony Hill Antiques are all worth a browse. Board members suggested that we draft a letter in response, to have our say and, more importantly, help the article gain in scope. Pasted below is what we came up with.
Few are the cities of Madison’s size that can support so many bookstores. As the field of bookselling and distribution continues to shift, and as books themselves continue to diversify in form, I wonder which of our town's stores will ride the oncoming waves into a new golden age of books and if any will drown in the choices before them.
Dear Cap Times:
We read Rob Thomas’s article about Madison’s independent bookstores with delight and optimism. Ten years ago, by which time the big box stores had crushed independents in nearly every retailing category, who would have predicted the demise of the chains? And again, only five years ago the e-book revolution promised another sharp turn towards a paperless world. But in towns with serious readers books and independent bookstores persist.
Books, it is true, we can buy straight from our screens to our mailboxes. But books are always better with their associated people. The friendships, debates, and hanging-out that come with finding the people that correspond to one’s books are what we at another of Madison’s independents, Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, aim to provide—books that come attached to an open community of engaged citizens, adventurous thinkers, and committed activists. Our store hosts events and study groups once or twice a week, at least, thereby helping to cultivate the progressive and intellectual life of Madison.
When it comes to the bookselling business, the writing on the wall is never quite what it seems, except maybe in the reliably quirky space of your favorite independent bookstore. So please come out, not just to Rainbow, but to Frugal Muse, Room of One’s Own, Paul’s. Go to Driftless Books and Music in Viroqua and People’s in Milwaukee. And Woodland Pattern, and all the other independent booksellers we are lucky to have across southern Wisconsin. Browse the shelves and maybe buy a book, but either way, leave with something priceless: a community and a culture that belongs to where you live.
Dan S. Wang
board members, Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, Madison