I was flipping through the business section of the Star a few weeks ago when I came across a story about the Indigo bookstore chain shifting its focus more into gifts, "healing" items and other oddball accessories, reducing the number of books to about 60% of a store's inventory. Plans were also mentioned for converting the remaining Coles bookstores into the "IndigoLite" chain, with a greater emphasis on accessories.
All this in a quest to make the company the "book lover's cultural department store".
I wanted to throw up.
While I admit I spend many lunch hours in the Indigo a block from the office, I can't say I'm in love with the place. It's been easy to see the number of books decline, as more of the first floor is taken up with items like expensive marinades/drink mixes and new age products. This is more pronounced at the chain's downtown locations, where floors that used to hold tomes now feature more and more of the other stuff (especially their Chapters locations - you wonder why they hang on to that name when it looks like somebody has it out for them).
Maybe I'm crusty because I'm not a fan of the products Indigo is moving towards. But given the big stink that was raised when American giants like Borders murmured about seeking approval to move up here, it's a disappointment. So much for helping out Canadian publishers. My guess is that their lesser-selling titles will be among the first to be chopped.
My friend Elizabeth, who works as an editor, gives her two cents:
"Book lover's cultural department store" ... that is too sad. Really sad. And not just because the cultural department store concept is clearly a last resort, but sad because Canadians don't read enough books to support large books. Or it could just be a population thing - not enough people in Canada in general.
The indy bookstores are the big winners here, I think, and probably Amazon as well. Perhaps Canadians who care about reading prefer quality and customer-service-oriented shops as opposed to sprawling, faceless, lowest-common-denominator chains. The format feels very American. On the other hand, many people who read are also busy professionals who prefer to shop online because they don't have time for in-store browsing.
Wandering around town, it looks like the indy trade is beginning to recover here. Those that survived the onslaught of Chapters/Indigo appear to be doing OK. Book City has been adding branches across the city, the latest on Yonge south of Bloor, the niche stores are carrying on, etc.
At least the American book giants (Borders and Barnes & Noble) still haven't dabbled too far into the oddball stuff. True, they carry notebooks, CDs and the odd gift item - but for the most part, you can see that the book selection is still deeper than the typical Indigo/Chapters. Besides, those stores still have the comfy chairs (whose removal was the first sign something was afoot at Indigo/Chapters. They disappeared entirely for awhile at the local branch, but I wonder if customer complaints brought them back, albeit with fewer, not-so-comfy wooden seats).
Meanwhile, hope you like those crystals... - JB, EC