Today in good news, the American Booksellers Association announced that membership is at its highest level in 20 years. Per reporting by Hillel Italie at the Associated Press:
The ABA added 173 members last year, and now has 2,185 bookstore businesses and 2,599 locations. Three years after the pandemic shut down most of the physical bookstores in the U.S. and the independent community feared hundreds might close permanently, the ABA has nearly 300 more members (under stricter rules for membership) than it did in 2019, the last full year before the spread of COVID-19.
And in what might be the truest expression of bookstore ownership I’ve ever heard, Jessica Callahan, who, along with two friends, opened Pocket Books Shop a year ago in Lancaster, Penn, told Italie: “We’re not getting rich from this, but we’re able to pay our bills and pay ourselves.”
This, of course, hints at one of the broader problems industrywide: in order to open and sustain an independent bookstore, many owners tell themselves the undertaking is something like a vocation, a moral good that renders unambiguous benefits to any given community. And while much of this may be true, it can also make it easier for owners to rely on unsustainably underpaid labor, who are also doing it “for the love of books.”
But before I get any deeper into that, let’s just enjoy this little bit of good news on a Monday. In the face of ever-mounting book bans and the gutting of library budgets, more places to get books is, in fact, a moral good.