Would you like a CD with that? Bookstore-record store convergence
The New York City bookstore McNally Jackson sometimes has a small selection of music displayed near the cash register, including the debut album from I'm Not Jim, the 2008 collaboration of novelist Jonathan Lethem with the Silos’ Walter Salas-Humara. "We've only ever carried a handful of CDs ... and yes, it was because of the literary connection," says McNally Jackson buyer John Turner.
Travel across the country to Seattle’s Easy Street Records and you’ll find that display’s opposite: a small but dedicated books section, filled with not just expected music-related titles ("The Pitchfork 500," Continuum’s 33 1/3 series) but also graphic novels and selections from McSweeney’s. The decision to carry specific books is based on "cultural relevance, if it connects with either modern or significant historic threads in music/culture/arts/politics," according to owner Matt Vaughan and printed matter buyer Jefferson Petrey. Easy Street has carried books since 2002. "Music and music-culture books," they say, are its biggest sellers. "A close second [are] the underground culture books like the Vice Guides, Suicide Girls and Graffiti (Banksy's 'Wall and Piece' is our third best-selling book two years in a row, for example) with literature/politics books like...McSweeney's and Adbusters coming in around third."
The Portland, Ore.-based magazine and publisher Yeti steps firmly across borders of multiple forms of culture. A given issue of Yeti magazine might include a Luc Sante essay, a Kevin Sampsell short story, a Carson Ellis illustration alongside coverage of a long-forgotten gospel musician, a contemporary indie-pop band, or an experimental noise artist.Yeti’s recently launched publishing arm covers similar territory, with a collection of essays from Sante, "Kill All Your Darlings"; "Russian Lover and Other Stories" by Jana Martin; and "The Art of Touring," edited by former musicians Sara Jaffe and Mia Clarke. All of this leads to Yeti’s presence in both book and record stores: The publisher navigates both worlds. “A few record stores have accounts with a book wholesaler, but most don't," explained Yeti managing editor Steve Connell via e-mail. "And not many bookstores have accounts with the record distributors we use." He went on to detail the multiple distributors with which Yeti works: "The mix varies a lot from item to item. Yeti magazine sells overwhelmingly through the record distros, plus Last Gasp and Ubiquity, plus mail order. The literary books sell overwhelmingly through book distro channels. The music books sell mostly through the record distros, though we do get some sales through the book trade as well."
Vaughan and Petrey note that, for visitors to Easy Street, "the books [and] mags are another reason to make a monthly/weekly stop-in at the shop, with the customer knowing the new issue of Mojo [or] The Wire is out or let’s say, that psych-rock compendium they've been waiting for or Who biography was just published. Or in some cases being surprised that there are new books out [or] that we stock them and adding a curious new find to their intended music purchases." Sometimes, after all, it's the "curious new finds" that inspire the most devotion.
-- Tobias Carroll
Tobias Carroll writes about music and books and blogs at The Scowl.
Photo Credit: ocrmid via Flickr