Hot Air: Bullish On Bookstores

How about that ol’ Rick Morgenstern? He used to own a terrific (so I’ve heard) independent bookstore over in the Eastland Plaza. I never got there myself because he’d closed the place before I came to this sprawling megalopolis in 2009. But everybody I talk to raves about it.

Morgenstern had some good fortune going for him, sitting pretty in a location w/ scads of parking and some decent foot traffic, both pluses for any biz but especially for a bookseller. Then along came that corporate steamroller called Borders and Rick fared about as well as a tiny beetle caught underneath the crushing wheels. He closed his store in the 1990s not terribly long after Borders opened up its superstore in Eastland’s anchor spot.

Borders, of course, among other missteps, invested hugely in music CDs — just in time for CDs to go the way of Betamax. Its parent corp., The Borders Group, died gasping and mewling in September, 2011. The Bloomington Borders had shuttered eight months earlier, on January 7. As Borders was moaning and groaning through bankruptcy proceedings, Barnes & Noble copped the Borders logo and the company’s customer list. And, wouldn’t you know it, now it’s Barnes & Noble that’s moaning and groaning, the nationwide corporation bleeding money for years and announcing it’s quitting Bloomington in February, 2019.

So now, apparently, Rick Morgenstern sees an opportunity. He’s thinking of opening another bookstore. Writes he in today’s online Herald Times:

I’m considering opening a new version of my store. If I do it, it will not only be a cool new indie bookstore, it will also offer other amenities such as food and drink, live performance and arts and crafts goods. This store will be a sweet and warm family gathering space just like our former bookstore.

Now that the Book Corner is Bloomington’s only remaining independent bookseller offering new product (Caveat Emptor sells used books), Morgenstern just might be on to something. The local bookstore as social locus works in places like Village Lights in Madison, Indiana.

I look forward to seeing Morgenstern’s dream become a reality.

[ h/t to Pencillista Chris Paputsas. ]

Highly Insulted

Do you read Jim Hightower’s columns on his website The Hightower Lowdown? Hightower’s the media gadfly who’s taken up the mantle of fellow Texan, the late Molly Ivins. Hightower also pens a weekly syndicated column for newspapers across this holy land. That is, those newspapers that aren’t run by rich-as-Croesus corporate overlords.

Those kinds of guys are awfully sensitive these days. They’re getting damned good at squelching any content that portrays them in a bad light (read: as they really are).

Hightower, for instance, not long ago wrote a column for distribution in which he lambasted the plutocrats who are in charge of the nation’s news media. Not that the suits haven’t run newsrooms and studios since forever but as recently as the late 1970s, coast-to-coast TV networks maintained a sort of benign, hands-off attitude toward their news-gathering ops. The presentation of bulletins (remember that term?) and daily newscasts was thought of as a public service. News deptartments weren’t expected to make money. They weren’t considered profit centers. They were, in fact, viewed by their CEOs and boards of directors as a nice thing they could do for society — or at least payback for the privilege of setting up otherwise-uber-profitable shop on limited, federally-administered airwaves.

Newspapers, too, were not considered terribly wise investments but rich folk continued to invest in them as a sort of beau geste, something they were obligated to do for the world in exchange for the gazillions they made in other, more lucrative rackets.

That all changed once the pathological deregulators of the Right killed the equal-time provision and the 24-hour cable news services took over our very way of thinking about the world. Now news has to make piles of doughs just as hamburgers have to generate revenue for McDonald’s or crystal meth has to enrich the global cartels of Mexico, China, Myanmar, and the United States.

Jim Hightower in a November column skewered the feces out of the oligarchs who’ve taken over our print and electronic news services. He came down especially hard on the vulture capitalists buying up newspapers like a bipolar insomniac with a modem and a couple of not-yet maxed-out credit cards. Hightower wrote:

They know nothing about journalism and care less, for they’re ruthless Wall Street profiteers out to grab big bucks fast by slashing the journalistic and production staffs of each paper, voiding all employee benefits (from pensions to free coffee in the breakroom), shriveling the paper’s size and news content, selling the presses and other assets, tripling the price of their inferior product – then declaring bankruptcy, shutting down the paper, and auctioning off the bones before moving on to plunder another town’s paper.

Wouldn’t you know it, Hightower’s column was spiked. Hightower’s distributor, Creators Syndicate, killed the piece because it didn’t want to offend the “hedge fund scavengers” (Hightower’s words) who own local papers that purchase content from it. Hightower told Austin Chronicle reporter Michael King: “Here we go with the irony again. A column about media concentration leads to media censorship — or I guess corporate self-censorship.”

News media long ago ceased being a privileged, sacrosanct pillar of society, a business that wasn’t really a business, sort of like religion. (Although religion learned how to be fabulously profitable eons ago.) Still, the Pollyannas among us still like to think journalism remains a public service, vital to society. And in some cases it is. There’s Democracy Now! and The Guardian and a slew of other struggling news-gathering and investigative agencies swimming valiantly upstream. But the number of people who get their news from such outfits is negligible. There’s me and maybe you and ten or twenty other people around the country who eschew ABC, CNN, USA Today, and the News Corp. divisions. People want to be entertained by news, to be scared to death by news, to be reeled in by continuing reports on the latest virus/terrorist threat/calamity/disappearance/scandal/superstorm/celebrity divorce/Trump tweet, to be, in other words, hooked. Those captive eyes mean big bucks, regardless of how the message perverts our perception of reality. As former CBS CEO Les Moonves famously said of the Trump candidacy in early 2016:

It may not be good for America but it’s damned good for CBS…. Man, who would have expected the ride we’re having right now?… The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on Donald. Keep going.


One thought on “Hot Air: Bullish On Bookstores

  1. Mori Coe says:

    Great articles, Thank you.

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