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Why Bookstores?

By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  November 23, 2010

Starting with Harry Potter and continuing with the Twilight saga, the line between YA and adult consumers has become increasingly blurred. "Over the past five years, all the agencies have moved into [the YA market] that didn't used to do it," says Harmsworth. "Authors of books for adults want to write young adult and middle-grade fiction now."

So it is with science fiction, another section the Booksmith expanded since Barnes and Noble closed. Teenagers read those, too.

Harmsworth works with business books, which he notes are a surprising holdout from the digital market. "People want to display that they've read them," he said. "They want to have them in their office, and you can't do that if they're on their Kindle. They might not have actually read them, but they like having them."

Harvard Book Store general manager Carole Horne is heartened by the growth of graphic novels, popular science, and cookbooks. "Cookbooks have exploded in the last 10 years," she tells me. "We even have a food-writing section now."

They've also started carrying chocolate.

'The obvious thing'
Far less pedestrian is another recent addition to Harvard Book Store: Paige M. Gutenborg, a robot that prints books on demand. "I wouldn't call it a novelty," Horne says, though she doesn't think it's yet integral to the store. "We can't print on one book machine the number of books that we sell in a day," she says. "We can't even approach the number of books that we sell in a day."

Horne hopes that someday Gutenborg will be able to print whatever esoteric title anyone might desire. For now, that's not the case, but the number of titles available to print are growing. "Within the next six months, you will see some trade publishers making most — if not all — of our trade paperbacks printed on the machine, so that when we're out of stock of something, we can print it."

In the meantime, staff and customers are having fun finding old books and printing them out. Faculty have found it especially useful. "The Classics department at Harvard has used the machine for lots of things," she says. "There's so much public-domain classic literature available that they didn't have access to before. I think as the available content grows, it will become more and more integral."

Although there's content available through Gutenborg that's not otherwise available in the store, Horne acknowledges that customers will continue to buy some books from Amazon. Even so, Horne thinks that increased environmental awareness might change that. "The Amazon model is cumbersome," she says. Amazon's books "get packaged up one at a time, flown across the country, put in a truck, delivered to your house — it's not necessarily the most efficient or the greenest [method]. A lot of people think e-books solve that problem, but then you have an e-book . . . and there are still people that want physical books." Physical books that, as of last year, Harvard will deliver via a bicycle messenger service — the perfect transportational mascot for a town with three Whole Foods, two a mile away from one another.

Though Wellesley has only one Whole Foods, the Wellesley Booksmith's new owners are confident that the town will continue to value its local indie bookstore.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Books, Harvard Book Store, Brookline Booksmith,  More more >
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2 Comments / Add Comment


Please go beyond Cambridge and Brookline to Back Pages Books in Waltham. You will see why independent books stores not only are surviving, but are an integral part of a community.
Posted: November 23 2010 at 8:01 PM

Jenny Milchman

I am really enjoying reading this article, and having my long ago prediction about a local bookstore resurgence confirmed :)

Your readers might be interested in a new holiday this year, the first annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. Please visit to add your own local indie--and help spread the word!
Posted: November 29 2010 at 8:00 AM
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