We're Opening a Bookstore! (Part 2)
We're Opening a Bookstore! (Part 2)
When we announced our plans at Milkweed Editions to open a bookstore, the response was neatly divided along two lines: People in the publishing and bookselling industries cheered the effort and offered their help. People outside the industry questioned our sanity, responding, often with a smirk, “Don’t you know that bookstores are going extinct?”
While our skeptics aren’t completely correct—in recent years the American Booksellers Association has tracked an uptick in openings of independent bookstores—they are generally right: retail bookshelves are an endangered species. In 2011 alone, nearly a third of physical retail space for books disappeared overnight with the closure of Borders. And the number of independent bookstores open today pales in comparison to numbers ten and twenty years ago.
Amidst the many potential extinctions the world is facing, physical (and specifically independent) bookshelves seem like a pretty small loss—until we think about what lives there: Poetry. Translations. Short fiction. Experimental and creative nonfiction. Inventive, breakthrough novels. New voices speaking across cultures, economic divides, and genders. In short, groundbreaking literature relies on bookstores and booksellers to thrive. Algorithms employed in online shopping are only capable of selling us more of what we already know and like. Perusing a bookshelf allows for chance encounters and new discoveries. Booksellers offer that wondrously unscientific but nonetheless totally reliable synaptic leap: “Oh, you loved [insert amazing novel here], you should give [insert inventive debut nonfiction writer here] a shot!”
So when people doubt the sanity of opening a bookstore, we see only one possible response: There’s no way we could responsibly choose not to! At Milkweed Editions, our mission as an independent publisher is to find and nurture the best literary art, and build an engaged community around it. And so, Milkweed Books will come to be in early September. Located on the ground floor of the Open Book building—the nation’s largest literary center—it will be a wonderful and necessary addition to the building’s existing tenants, the Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and Milkweed Editions, as well as our 175,000 visitors per year.
What will Milkweed Books do?
Milkweed Books is a part of Milkweed Editions, but this doesn’t mean we will only sell books that we ourselves publish. Instead, the store’s mix of titles will reflect our mission: Milkweed Books will showcase titles published by independent presses, nonprofit presses, and other publishers working to bring the most exciting literary art to the marketplace. If you want to find the best new poetry, or creative nonfiction, or short stories, or translations, this bookstore is for you.
The bookstore will include space for staff picks, our Emerging Writers Bookcase, and an entire wall dedicated to exhibits offering a behind-the-scenes look at how books are made. You’ll also be able to consult with booksellers on what’s happening in the literary world and which books are right for you, and special orders will be an important part of how we meet our customers' needs. Eventually, you can sign up (from anywhere in the country) for our subscription service, where you’ll get a new book every other month suited to—but also pushing forward and expanding—your tastes. If you’re close enough to our home base, we’ll even deliver by bike!
It’s a small space (only six hundred square feet) with a specific mission. So every time you come in you’ll find the latest from Copper Canyon, Two Dollar Radio, Europa, Coffee House, McSweeney’s, Deep Vellum, Tin House, Graywolf, and, yes, Milkweed Editions, alongside more publishers and books that rise to the level of quality and innovation that other independent booksellers have long supported.
But how will you do it?
Beyond being a strong organization with a proven history of effective nonprofit management, and a sharp, dedicated staff, we’re also fortunate to have a space that offers a number of essentials:
- Reasonable real estate price (check!): As a founding partner of Open Book, Milkweed Editions is able to negotiate below-market rent to allow us to devote more resources to programming.
- Killer event space for both large and intimate audiences (check!): The Target Performance Hall, classrooms, and commons are set up to host audiences of 20 to 200 and all feature state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities.
- An attached café or bar, preferably run by another party (check, check, and check!): The building has featured a bustling coffee shop and bistro since opening 16 years ago.
- On-site storage for inventory (check!): Our on-site warehouse already manages the movement of thousands of units of inventory each month.
- Loyal customers (check!): Last year alone, 175,000 people interested in literature visited our building—the only public literary arts building of its size in the United States. Milkweed Books will serve each of the diverse communities that already gather inside the building’s doors — readers and authors alike — and will become a destination for those seeking out the newest and best literature being published.
But why do you need support?
Sometimes we encounter confusion about why we have to raise money to publish books. “You sell books, why would you need to fundraise?” Put simply: The types of cutting-edge work independent publishers take risks on typically return less than half the investment they require. And so we raise additional funds from people who love the risks we take, the new authors we debut, and the books we bring into the world. Being a nonprofit supported by a strong community allows us to focus on quality and transformative potential over everything else.
The same goes for our new bookstore. While, in many ways, Milkweed Books will look like other bookstores, its not-for-profit status mandates that it operates to fulfill a mission rather than seek a profit. There’s a reason that many bookstores are unable to stock healthy poetry sections or lots of debut writers — they’re very hard to sell. Milkweed Books’ role in the bookselling ecosystem will be to take risks on great new literary writing and engage new audiences with it in inventive ways. And yet, while our mission might mandate such an approach, it doesn’t make the effort any less challenging from a financial perspective.
Investing in Milkweed Books with your dollars today will allow us to stretch farther, experiment with more creative models for bookselling, host more public events, and invest in the work of more independent presses and literary authors. Ultimately, your gift will allow us to champion talented writers, engaging books, and curious readers to help ensure a world filled with wonderfully diverse bookshelves.
ED NOTE: Our Kickstarter campaign concluded successfully on September 23, 2016. However, Milkweed Editions is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and you can give a gift anytime.