Ann Arbor has long been a town famous for its wealth of independent bookstores - rich sources of written material off the beaten literary path. Yet now in Ann Arbor, as n numerous communities across the country, independent bookstores are losing ground to chain superstores. Before you know it, your favorite neighborhood independent bookstore may have disappeared - unable to compete with businesses backed by corporations with deep pockets. The bottom line issue though isn't about big vs. small or independent vs. chain, it's about voice - a voice that represents quality and diversity to the community and the individuals who live here. That voice for the independent bookseller - in a world where slick marketing and advertising domínate - is becoming increasingly muted. Independent bookstores are at a disadvantage because we buy smaller quantities of titles than do the chain stores. We pay more for each product, thereby reducing our profit margin and our abilty to offer deep discounts to consumers. From what profit there is, the majority goes rightback into inventory. What is left over goes to paying rent, salaries, and lastfy keting and advertising. Advertising dollars for many ndependents are so scarce they are saved for promoting special events. By necessity, we rely heavily on word of mouth. It's a shame, but the amount of money we spend on advertising seems to be directly proportional to the co verage our stores recei ve from the local mainstream media. An excellent example of this is the treatment of Shaman Drum Bookshop on State Street by The Ann Arbor News. When owner Karl Pohrt decided to expand his store to include street level space, he did so by taking a huge financial risk. Shaman Drum's expansión has resulted in a store that is beautiful and has a more extensive nventory - a welcome addition to the unique selections and informative staff for which they have long been known. But if you read only The News, you wouldn't know much about this major expansión of a local bookstore! In September a group of independent bookstore owners and managers nformally met to discuss how we, as a group, could address these problems and gain a louder voice. One of the questions which emerged from our meeting was: How do we edúcate the public about who we are and why we are of value to the community, when we have limted access to the major media? With that question n mind, we approached AGENDA and offered to produce a monthly book page. As a regular feature of the paper, we will be able to introduce you to new ideas and opinions from the many talented booksellers in our area. We will also provide you with book reviews, many from small and university presses which are also providing a voice for new and challenging authors and ideas. As independent bookstores we have more of an opportunity to expose our customers to these alternativo books because we see them as essential to our businesses - not just commodities! We feel a real responsibility to those alternative voices which bring quality to our lives. We take chances with small publishers, which in turn take chances with unconventional literary works. These voices could very well fall silent without independent bookstores. For this month we hope you enjoy the di versity of the bestseller list from each of our stores. It is in that difference that our strength lies! Kay Marsh is Manager of Little Professor Bookstore.
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