The current crisis around LGBTQ bookstores is not a conflict between print books and digital books. Digital books are here to stay and are going to learn to coexist with print books. Consequently, a bookstore will offer a maximum number of titles of books of interest to LGBTQ persons in a maximum number of formats for use in the maximum number of devices and formats. In this way, the distinction between an LGBTQ publisher and an LGBTQ reader will be more or less emphatically erased. The keyword here is freedom.
There is no point in a gay bookstore trying to compete with amazon.com. That competition is also over. LGBTQ bookstores have to find a way to live with amazon.com—that is, they have to find those areas where they can go head-to-head with amazon.com and win.
The major element amazon.com doesn’t offer is a place. A digital place is no substitute for a brick and mortar place, where people of all genders and sexualities can find a book and also can find a comfortable place among people who share an interest in the literary and political history of LGBTQ people.
Such a place will be inviting, with a sitting area and a coffee and tea bar, where people can socialize and share interests.
The principal characteristic of this bookstore would be the stock of new and used print books on hand for purchase and a server of sufficient size to enable the purchase of ebooks in epub and mob formats. This bookstore will also work with various websites to make its collections available online.
This bookstore will also work with a local print-on-demand sources to enable the purchase of print-on-demand books, so that customers can come in, find a title they want to buy, have the book printed, and promptly take it home. Also, the bookstore will build on the precedent of Calamus Books and publish its own books-on-demand. All aspects of the bookstore—the sale of books, of ebooks, and of print-on-demand books, the coffee cart, and others—will be expected to be self-supporting, exempting only staffing and rent.
A critical component of the services the bookstore will offer is reviews, which will be of two kinds, reader reviews and professional reviews written by a collection of reviewers in the LGBTQ community in Boston. The bookstore will publish a newsletter announcing the availability of books and develop a style of short, thumbnail reviews. Guest editors will be offered the chance to devote an issue of the newsletter to a particular subject or writers. The bookstore will offer events focussed on issues of technical help for writers—publishing in epub, mobi, azw3, calibre, Sigil, etc.
The bookstore will offer a full and exciting slate of events—book readings, discussions on current and literary topics, a series of author introductions. Care will be given to schedule events which answer the interests and needs of Boston readers and writers.
This bookstore will presumably not operate for profit. The people who gather to start a new book store will seek professional help on the economics of a bookstore, how much is needed, how can it be raised. A group of persons will be named who are willing to obligate themselves for a yearly donation of a certain amount of money (say, $500), to be used to pay the manager and to pay rent. These donors will not receive any benefits for their donation. Most of the great non-profit organizations in Boston (the MFA, ICA, the Athenaeum, and others) operate with a class of donors. We can learn from them.
The only paid staff will be a paid manager, all other staff will be volunteers, recruited from the ranks of retired LGBTQ persons.
Constantly, throughout the founding of a new bookstore in an age of profound and disturbing transition, people should remember two things: the needs of local Boston LGBTQ readers, and the needs of local Boston LGBTQ writers. The bookstore should remember that people in the fifteenth century had to learn that they needed books. And the bookstore should take it as a central part of its mission to teach that books of all kinds and in all formats are necessary to life.
John Palfrey. BiblioTech: Why libraries matter more than ever in the Age of Google. New York: Basic Books, A member of the Perseus Books group, 2015. See for a general discussion of an age of the transition from print books to print-and-digital books.