May 3, 2019

The loyalty of a good bookseller


A couple days ago, Sarah Malley wrote for Popula an in-depth essay about the status of bookstores, booksellers, and the communities surrounding them. Eye-opening that it was, while reading, I couldn’t get past a prevailing theme extending across publishing: the idea of trade-offs. Wherever you look, and no matter who you are, if you’re working in some way for books, you’ve likely accepted the fact that you won’t be making very much in the way of a salary. Frequently we hear of the stress of having to take second and third jobs, freelancing and other miscellaneous avenues of work to stay financially afloat.

Malley focused much of her essay on the bookselling side of things:

“Independent bookstores act as community anchors,” the American Booksellers Association declares … “they serve a unique role in promoting the open exchange of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and creating economically vibrant neighborhoods.” This same lofty idealism justifies why booksellers don’t need to be paid a living wage, like employees of nonprofits or teachers: because bookstores are so vital for the community, the assumption goes, the job should be reward enough itself. The work is so important that maybe booksellers should make personal sacrifices, working well below the value of their labor.

A person on the outside could approach the issue any number of ways, just as a veteran in the industry could do the same. The issue stands—people struggling to continue while helping in one of the oldest means of human communication and edification. You could say this post is more a bookmark, a mention, in a long and ongoing list of mentions regarding just how much people sacrifice for books.



Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.