I don’t usually read the local newspaper with my morning coffee. Usually, I don’t read anything before I fully finish my breakfast as I’m not a morning person. Hell no. Having a decent conversation with someone before the clock hits 9 is not my cup of tea. But this morning happens to be an exception when I recognize the man on the full size picture in front of me, heading the local news. Pedro is standing there for the photograph to be taken, surrounded by his bookshelves.
I have known Pedro for quite some years now. He’s my guide, I mean my book-guide. He owns a book store, the only one we can find in the south district of my city that is not related to a franchise. The first time I got there was by simple curiosity. I remember, as I was entering the store, a woman welcomed me and let me know she was there to help me if I needed anything. After thanking her, I took the narrow path that led me to a small table were many books were disposed and arranged by genre. I looked at all of them, letting my fingers caress the covers, opening some, allowing my mind to be caught by any story. The smell of new books was everywhere in the air, the freshly printed papers were appealing potential readers to purchase the items, each book hoping to be the chosen one.
The thing is, back at this time in my life, I was not reading so much to be honest. I had read classical books in school, specialized works during my college years, few stories during holidays, but I was not a bookworm. And I have to say that I did not really understand why reading was not taking so much place in my life because at that moment, I had already read many pieces that I had incredibly loved. So why wasn’t I willing to dig stronger into this hobby? My computer and my smartphone where taking a certain place in my free time when it came to occupy my boredom, I should confess. Those screens were snapping me up once I was turning them on, thanks to social Medias, popup news, articles on flash info or weird events, I could let time fly away by jumping from one app to another. Unfortunately, I did not fully realize that reading books could be a more joyful solution to occupy myself for one specific reason: at the opposite of reading flash news articles on the internet, the activity of book reading needs an effort prior enjoying the story : to select the book. And for me, this effort seemed to be tremendous as I had stumbled many times on unpleasant stories that I had chosen by the book’s cover. The advertising and the item’s display were pushing me to choose the best images, caught by the “already 1 million readers” tag. I’ve never been so disappointed.
At that time in my life, I was trying to figure out how could I find a book that would entertain me without taking too much risk when choosing the story, thanks to the recap on the back of the item. I admit, I can quit an activity very fast when I don’t find any joy in it. When I don’t get thrilled by the first 60 pages, it is highly possible that I will put the book back on a shelf where it belongs. Forcing myself to do something on my free time that I don’t appreciate is not making sense in my mind and this has been my leitmotiv for some decades now. So, when it comes to choosing a book, I can take days to find the book I would cling to. Then, I could see the act of purchasing a book as a Russian roulette, except the fact that if the story was not entertaining, I felt like losing the money I had put in it.
Anyway, after some time of wandering in the little alleys, I kindly ask the man who is arranging some bookshelves to help me find a gift for a family member. Right at this moment, I felt bold, I’m telling you. Usually, I was struggling to find books for myself and here I was, trying to find a book for someone I knew. The man started to question me about this person, who was she? How old was she? Which books did she like? What were her hobbies? He was slowly getting a precise idea of the person he had never met and went silent for a few seconds. I could see him frown as he was thinking. After a while, he went straight to one bookshelf to give me one book, then a second, a third and a forth. I had all of them standing in front of me when he began to tell me the stories of each one, punctuating of his own critics, helping me to define the perfect gift. I decided to peak two of them, hopping that they would carry away the future reader’s mind. One was from an unknown french writer and the second was from an icelandic woman that I had never heard about until then. I left this store with a pleasant feeling of having discovered a beautiful place, occupied by wonderful people, with two gifts in my hands.
Few weeks later, I got some feedback from my relative: “those books were wonderful! I loved them! I will buy other books of those authors but, I was wondering, how did you chose those ones?” I simply responded that I was well advised. The success of this first try forced me to go on and this is when I started offering books around me on many occasions, getting the same satisfaction for every item offered. After a couple of years, I was told by one of them, in a laugh “what did you tell them about me to find those writings that fit me that good?”. “Well”, I said, “They are very talented and knowledgeable I guess”.
Pedro owns the store and has 2 employees. They are as well documented as him, I assure you. They could find a perfect fit for anybody. They are amazing! I started then to get books for myself, depending on my mood and my expectations and they never failed. Every time I went to this book store, they were some clients walking in between the alleys and stopping in front of a cover. I always considered this place as one of those successful small shops, the ones that everybody knows for their spirit and their beauty, the trendy ones that go against the winds and the heavy tides of globalization and mass merchandizers.
But today, Pedro is on the news. A big company implanted a franchise store specialized in books near his shop and the sales revenue decreased from 15 percent in a few months. Fifteen is not so much you would think, but the truth is, it is enough to jeopardize its existence. Pedro is then seeking for help, the banks are seeing this as a warning and wouldn’t allow the loan to wait for a better time. What do people find in those franchise that is better than this?
I decided to go have a look on this new book-supermarket during lunch time to have an idea of what is making such a difference. In front of the new store, I see the logos and the colors of the company everywhere, even on the giant sliding doors that open, allowing me to get a big wave of cold conditioned air coming from inside. The feeling of abundance and freedom I was expecting were quickly replaced by a feeling of being lost and desperate. Where do I look? Where do I go? How could I find a book only by going in between the overcrowded shelves? I look up to the signs and decide to reach the “fiction” space and stubble on a big table full of well-known authors. I recognize the covers before reading the names, as for some of them I could guess the writers by the style of the picture which has been chosen. I catch an employee’s attention and ask for help. He breathes loudly and I get the impression I interrupted him on his way to do something else. He leads me to the booth of new books freshly published and points out some stories I could like. He tells me he hasn’t read it but reviews are good, the franchise even added a note next to the pile of those items, expressing how awesome the story is. I didn’t need more to get out of this place as fast as possible, wondering what people appreciated in there.
What has happened? I don’t understand how the revenue decreased by 15% so quickly. “Supermakets can offer more and for less money, it’s easy to understand”. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply in my country for the book market. The laws imply that prices are set by editing companies, then, the money spent in one kind of shop or another will not be different, but exactly equal. Larger spectrum of choice? On the shelves for sure, but not for a fact: all bookstore are connected to the same database and can order any book to be delivered within 24 to 48 hours. Pre-ordering in bookstore will even spare you the cost of shipping compared to online-purchasing.
Then, why those client left this golden place to buy the same items, at the same price in a big impersonal place? Is the feeling of abundance that you can get when entering a franchise enough to deviate faithful purchasers to another place? It seems like the simple idea that you could get whatever you want in a glance of an eye is overcoming the need of social activity and local dynamism. The idea of immediate availability seems to overcome good advices. The idea that you could even find things you did not even think you needed is overcoming everything else. I still don’t understand how people find guidance to get the books that will fit them perfectly in there.
While driving away, the feeling of eventually watching this place close down is unbearable and I decide to go to the meeting organized the same day in my town to discuss all of the solutions we can think about with clients and local representatives. Around forty of us answered the call and here we are: all sitting around Pedro waiting for him to start the debate. After listening to the state of the accounts and the actions he already tried to put in place, we all start to discuss our ideas. After few hours we decide to go for two solutions: open credit lines to provision the bookstore’s accounts and show banks we are all here to fight (money we would use later this year when the financial situation will be better) while creating at the same time an association to get more leverage. This organization would allow people to participate in events, not giving only their money but also their time to create dynamics around this shop. I left the meeting half-relieved that the shop can possibly survive but also half-disappointed to see that we need to be there to save such a wonderful place.
Three weeks later, more than 110 people created credit lines, filling the financial gap they had and giving them some rest with the banks. It was not so much but the expected result was there and this is great. For the long-term results, we will need months or even years to see some return on investment. Re-creating local dynamism seems now to be a long road that will need to raise people’s awareness. I feel like we have reached a crossroad where our present actions will define what our lives will look like in one decade or two in a tremendous way. Is our natural path of evolving a society with no more small shops and massive consumerism without human interaction? Is there no other model available for ourselves? Do we have to expect a world where a small number of giant worldwide companies will pre-select our buys and pre-define our needs without allowing us to even know something else exists?
In the end, I don’t know if Pedro will still be welcoming me by the end of the year. If not, he, and his two employees, will have to find another path very soon. What is certain is that we, his faithful clients, are ready to help and we won’t give up on him.