A potential future for indie bookselling

Just quick post regarding this item in today’s Shelf Awareness:

“The French National Book Centre awarded more than 400 independent bookstores the new three-year quality label. Bookseller.com reported that booksellers ‘had to respond to a number of criteria to qualify for the LIR, or librairies indépendantes de référence. These included deriving at least half their turnover from the sale of books, proof of independence, diversity of stock, the quality of staff and services, and a strong programme of events.

‘In exchange, they are entitled to exoneration from the payroll tax, or taxe professionnelle (TP), that is levied by local authorities, starting from next year. The label, which was officially launched last April, was one of the proposals in the ‘Plan Livre’ that was adopted by the cabinet in November 2007 to bolster the book business.'”

Ever since someone told me that in Switzerland, booksellers are required to be certified, I’ve been thinking that US booksellers should hop on the bandwagon. (NB: I have no idea if that’s actually true about the certification, but it got the wheels turning anyway.)

Bookselling, in our culture and for the average person, is a retail job. A slightly more interesting retail job, and maybe even a cool one? Certainly. But it’s also a job you take while finishing your MFA. There is very little professional credibility in working full-time for a bookstore outside of the book industry.

Now, you and I and the lamppost know that this is ridiculous. Most people in bookselling are woefully over-educated, and in addition, have a strange skillset that makes them good at their job. We tend to know too much about a few select types of books (collections of 18th century love letters, Russian literature of the mid-1970s, books about the cultivation of oranges, etc). We also tend to know enough to get by while talking about almost any book, and enough to bullshit when talking about the rest. Some of this we learned while completing useless bachelor’s degrees, but the rest we obtained honestly, through hours and days and weeks of time logged behind the counter and on the floor, the way you learn any trade.

So I think we should have a certificate or something, I don’t know what. A school. A quality label. Whatever! Something that would make materially clear what we already know to be true. Would it be very hard to quantify what makes a good bookstore and a good bookseller? Probably. Would it lead to squabbling? Almost certainly. But it’d be worth it, I think.

This is all scrabble-dash, though. What do you think? Would people be reassured to see a pretty certificate in a frame when they walked in the shop? Could it lead to a greater awareness of the greatest asset of the indie bookseller—knowledge—which currently does not seem to resonate with the wider public? Discuss.

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6 comments so far

  1. Harriett on

    Certificate? Like another master’s degree to add to the collection? Who cares. But if it brings relief from payroll tax? — or occupancy tax or property tax or any kind of tax — hell yeah! Sign me up! 🙂

  2. Kelly on

    The European bookseller delegation who came to BEA told me about the certificate program in Switzerland…I tried to find info about it online, but no luck. Def. an idea for further discussion. Would be interesting to look at other retail professions with certificate programs of some sort?

  3. Robert Sindelar on

    I like it as a way to acknowledge that independent bookstores(that match certain criteria) provide cultural, social and even economic benefits to their communities that most “for-profit” retail does not. They are arts and cultural institutions. So a certificate that would provide types of tax relief? It makes a lot of sense. Has ABA ever discussed this as a serious idea?

  4. Doret on

    I have mastered the art of BS working at a bookstore for so long.

    I don’t think a certificate is needed, plus the book industry can’t afford it.

    However it would be nice if more customers respected what good booksellers can do.

  5. Tess on

    It seems like a bookselling certificate would be about as helpful as a bartending certificate:looks great on a resume, but no practical value in the real world.

    I really like the idea of a National Book Centre though. Let’s get on that.

  6. David on

    I agree that the certificate itself is not a big deal, but what jumped out at me is that the certified stores are exempt from sales tax. If indie stores in New York were able to gain such an exemption, it would be like a 9% discount and would help to even the playing field with the chains, who enjoy economies of scale and other advantages that indies do not.

    I wonder if this is something IBNYC could make happen, at least for Indie Bookstore Week in November.


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