Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Psst, guess what... Southerners Just as Snarky as New Yorkers (DBF part 1)

I must say, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution went all out for the second annual Decatur Book Festival. It was almost as though they were trying to prove something (cough - no Teresa Weaver - cough - no book section. The Square itself reminded me of a good old New York street festival, complete with corn dog stands. All of the exhibitors had little white tents for visitors to browse, and there were a variety of stages where authors and other industry folk discussed their books and the biz. There was even a special participant room, stocked with food and drinks, where the "VIPs" could hang between events. Not too shabby. Maybe Book Expo should take notes for next year.

But aside from the panels, the southern charm, delicious food, and plenty of booze, there was some other interesting stuff at work behind the scenes. First of all, the exhibitor list . Notice any stores missing? Hmm, Barnes and Noble? Borders? Nowhere to be found. Apparently, the AJC favors the independents, and Ladytron says more power to them. I've been known to swing into a B&N in my day (ahem, Harry Potter), but for the most, part, I do try to support my local independent. So right on, DBF peeps.
The most glaring omission, however, was Wordsmith. I was especially interested in checking the store out, since I'd read so much about it in the past few months . Opened by a former Chapter 11 exec (previously the largest independent book chain in the ATL area), Wordsmith is located RIGHT OFF the Decatur Square and had been written about in PW, Shelf Awareness, Galleycat, etc. So, after being hailed as the next great independent, why weren't they represented at the Festival?

Ladytron used her connections (by which I mean, I chatted up some locals from other independents) and unearthed some speculation. One, Wordsmith opened in June, a mere two and a half months before the Book Festival. All of the other independents were well-established in the Atlanta area, while Wordsmith (despite publicity) hadn't had a chance to prove themselves. Two, owner Zach Steele might be a touch shady. I've never met the man personally, so truly, I don't know, but word on the street is that when he defected from Chapter 11, he took a number of authors with him, dealing a huge blow to the already struggling store. Also, Steele claims to not sell children's books due to an agreement with nearby children's book shop, Little Shop of Stories. Not true, my sources say. Zach just doesn't like kids and doesn't want them running around his shop. The folks at the AJC-DBF are pretty kid-friendly and were not down with this. Finally, I heard that Steele, an initial supporter of the "Save the Book Review" campaign that stormed Atlanta earlier this year, disassociated himself as opening day grew closer. Once the store was open, Wordsmith claimed they were always involved in the fight, angering some of the true supporters.

However, to Steele's credit, he has opened a beautiful bookstore, and I've heard he took in many of the former Chapter 11 employees who were left jobless when the stores closed. And, maybe, in this day and age, you need to bend the rules a bit to play with the big boys...
So there you go…turns out that New York's not the only place where book gossip reigns supreme. Those crazy independents are just as back-stabbing as us publishing folk anyday. Whew. I don't feel so bad about myself now.



Anonymous said...

While it would have been helpful (for those not from Decatur) to have a Wordsmith's tent (or at least a sign giving directions on the Square.

But the store (in the old Decatur Post Office) is less than a two block walk from the square (down N. McDonough and right on Trinity or down Church to the corner of Church and Trinity), and could be said to "live" in the venue.

Perhaps there was a vendor charge Wordsmith's elected not to pay.

Hopefully, the border will be expanded a block or two in all directions (to include Wordsmiths) next year.

I'd like to see wristbands sold for a minimum contribution of $5, and more venue maps on signs.

Don't know why the big book stores elected not to participate. They probably do enough business without participating in such events. I seriously doubt they were consciously excluded.

Anonymous said...

Barnes and Noble did participate in a significant way--they sold at the signing area in the Church, and also in one of the venues--I believe in City Hall. Stage sales require a large commitment of resources, so stores often choose not to have a booth also. Outwrite was an independent that took that root. I had heard that Wordsmith was taking a booth with another partner, but apparently they changed their mind. Wordsmith's participation in the festival did not play a part in their decision not to have a booth.
By the way, don't blur the line between the AJC and the Decatur Book Festival. They support us with their sponsorship, but they are not involved in programming or booth sales. The festival is run by a small non profit that has to find funding from many sources to make it all work.
I support independent bookstores because I have worked with the Southern Independent Bookstore Association for years, and find the independents to be the best booksellers.

Daren Wang
Executive Director, AJC Decatur Book Festival

Anonymous said...

Also, Zach @ Wordsmiths seems very positive about the DBF, and if a comment there is indicative, many did find their way down the couple of blocks to Wordsmiths at Trinity and Church and weekend business was good for them: