"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." Jorge Luis Borges
My guest today is John Doyle of Crawford Doyle Booksellers. Welcome to OpEdNews, John.
Joan Brunwasser: You're a long-time co-owner of an independent bookstore on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. How did this come about?
John Doyle: My wife, Judy, and I decided to open the store in 1995 after my retirement from IBM. Both of us love books and I wanted to do something free from the constraints of corporate life: no more committee meetings.
JB: What did the two of you know about running a bookstore before you got started?
JD: I joined the American Booksellers Association while I was still working for IBM in Japan. We attended several of its annual book fairs while on vacation and I kept up on the literature for several years. When we returned to New York, I worked as an intern at two book stores to gain first-hand experience. I am not sure whether it was valuable--both of them failed! We also hired a consultant who helped guide our initial decisions.
JB: How did you settle on a location? Wasn't choosing Manhattan a bit daunting for such newbies?
JD: Judy and I walked the streets in various parts of Manhattan, looking for a suitable location. As luck would have it, one of the stores where I had served as an intern closed and the space became available. We lived nearby and jumped at the chance to obtain it. The store is only a block from the Metropolitan Museum. A bookstore has existed on this block since 1938. We wanted to keep the tradition alive and had little doubt that this was the best location in Manhattan for the kind of store we had in mind.
JB: Serendipity - don't you love it? So, how did it go?
JD: Everything went well from the start. Judy and I threw ourselves into every aspect of launching the store. We hired a first-rate architect to design the space, found a master cabinet-maker to build the fixtures, hired an experienced designer, Louise Fili, to design the logo and choose the typeface for our bookmarks and other graphic materials, and were fortunate to persuade Dot McCleary, a fixture at the previous store, to join our enterprise. A young man, Thomas Talbot, slipped a resume under the door and we had the good sense to hire him. In due course, he became the store manager and has guided the business ever since. Once we opened, we relied upon a wonderful group of neighbors whose book preferences helped us choose our inventory, decide on the authors we wanted to feature, and reaffirmed our decision to concentrate on meaningful, high-quality fiction and non-fiction books.
JB: Wise move, that: surrounding yourselves by high-quality people. That was almost twenty years ago. How has the book selling business changed in that time?
JD: Until now, I would say the book selling business has not changed much for us. We opened our store the same year that Barnes & Noble started its expansion and Amazon began to sell books on the Internet. So we have faced this competition from the beginning. Many independent bookstores in Manhattan have gone out of business, including some notable nearby stores. But our business has developed a loyal set of customers, many who live in the neighborhood, and some from out-of-town or from Europe. They continue to stick with us although many tell us they have electronic reading devices and use them sometimes while traveling.
Change in the last ten years has certainly affected our suppliers--the publishers--who are undertaking drastic restructuring, cost-cutting, and draconian price-cutting of their books produced in electronic form. They have been able to accomplish this by retaining high prices on printed books. The huge difference in price between digital books and paper books theoretically should result in driving bookstores such as ours out of business. But most of our customers have recently been telling us they don't get the same experience reading from a screen that they do from a real book. I would say the jury is still out on the future demise of real books and of real bookstores.