35 Years Ago: when one third of all hardcover books were sold in New York City alone.

“Once upon a time book retailing was about as exciting as watching haircuts. Hardcover books were often sold in musty downtown stores by fussy bibliophiles, and many readers turned to paperback racks in the more informal atmosphere of supermarkets or drugstores. Today the bookstore business is in the midst of a rambunctious revival. Highly organized chains with fat financial backing are using aggressive, unsentimental sales and promotion techniques to push into all parts of the country. The chains are cutting into book-club sales and sweeping some small independent stores out of business or forcing them to rely more and more on discounting or specialization.”

Time Magazine, 30 October 1978.

The “highly organized chains” mentioned above were B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

Other highlights: the casually dropped factoid that I used as the title of this post, that in 1978 fully one third of all hardcover books were sold in New York City, plus Barnes & Noble referred to as a local NY bookseller (not one of the chains cited) and the positively glowing description of a 5th Avenue B. Dalton Flagship store that “will carry 100,000 titles and have ten departments offering 125 categories of books.”

…just like the big box down by the mall in your dinky podunk hometown.

In the four years since I first quoted the Time article, sadly it’s been placed behind a time.com subscriber paywall. [Boo! you’re limiting academic research, Time!] (Editor’s Note: You can find a copy in the Wayback machine at the Internet Archive.)

It’s interesting to note just how far bookselling has come in 35 years, or even in just the past 10. Amazon will be turning 20 years old in 2014 or 2015 (depending on how one cares to measure it) and the first commercial experiments in ebooks devices date all the way back to 1998.

reposted under a CC license from Rocket Bomber

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