Black Bookstores Homeowners Retain Clients After Anti-Racist Ebook Gross sales Growth: NPR
Derrick Young, co-owner of Mahogany Books in Washington, DC, says his store has seen new customers over the past year who “seem ready to do the job” to learn about race issues in America. Bonnie Jo Mount / Getty Images Hide caption
Bonnie Jo Mount / Getty Images
Bonnie Jo Mount / Getty Images
On the day George Floyd was murdered – Monday, May 25, 2020 – there were no books on the New York Times bestseller list that were solely about white privilege, anti-blackness, or policing. Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility was the only book to break the week of May 31, but by June 21, nearly 70% of the Times bestseller list had been racing.
With sales of printed books up just over 8% and total sales of more than 750 million books, black bookstores would play an essential role in satisfying the nation’s “sudden” appetite in the plight of blacks.
Black booksellers like VaLinda Miller of Turning Page Bookshop in Goose Creek, SC, can attest to the book boom.
“It was crazy and extremely overwhelming. And I still had to hire a few people to ship the books,” says Miller. From June to August, Miller says, “got them [anywhere] from 100 to 200 to 300 orders per day. “
Although anti-blackness is an indiscriminate system that pays little attention to borders, Miller was particularly shocked by the international shipping addresses.
“About 70% of my customers were from the US … [but] I was surprised that I had so many people from Brazil, Venezuela and many other countries, “says Miller.
She called the surge “incredible,” and that word comes for Miller, who had to close her first bookstore, The BookSmith, after just a few years of “people not interested in what she had to offer” in in two ways.
After Miller reopened in June 2019, she learned from this and took a different approach when engaging the aspiring readers of last summer. She urged customers to buy a book from their favorite genre in addition to the book about racing they were solemnly looking for. Miller vividly tells of a case in which an elderly white man walked into her store and looked for white fragility.
“He said, ‘My wife told me to come here and buy a book by a black author so I can support a black-owned bookstore,'” Miller says. Their business is the only black-owned bookstore in the state.
“I want you to support my shop,” she recalls, “but if you want to buy this book, especially when you consider what’s going on, you have to buy another book because I know what you’re going to do. ” They’ll take this book home, put it down, and read the other book, “says Miller.
A few months later, the same gentleman visited the Turning Page Bookstore to confess that he had done just that.
Elsewhere across the country, black bookstore owners saw new customers engaging in anti-racist reading. Derrick Young, a co-owner of mahogany books in southeast Washington, DC, where the population is more than 90% black, said he noticed more white customers were shopping at his store.
“We’re definitely seeing more people who seem genuinely ready to get the job done. We’re seeing people not just picking up notable bestsellers like White Fragility,” he says.
Young is able to judge those who are willing to “do the job” by the books they ask for. He believes it indicates where that person is on their journey.
“We see people coming in to buy books like Chocolate City or Medical Apartheid from us,” says Young. “Books that are a little more specific and deal with issues we’ve talked about for a long time that create problems of justice in our communities.”
Young says his store, which was recently nominated for Bookstore of the Year, has seen some wear and tear, but admits it was inevitable. He’s not discouraged; He is moved by the continued growth in readers who keep coming back.
“They’re coming back to not only buy books about black people, but we now have people buying books specifically about women, about LGBTQ issues,” says Young. “So, you know, it’s really good to see people stay here and try to get the necessary reading to really open their minds.”
La’Nesha Frazier and La’Nae Robinson own Bliss Books & Wine in Kansas City. Mo. Robinson says that while readers originally came to check the box, overall they have acquired new customers. Hide caption courtesy of Bliss Books & Wine
Courtesy Bliss Books & Wine
Courtesy Bliss Books & Wine
La’Nae Robinson, co-owner of Bliss Books & Wine in Kansas City, Missouri, saw something similar in her clients.
“They started some of their own book clubs and reading groups and looked for recommendations,” she says. “They wanted us to help make it easier.”
These facilitated conversations raised a multitude of questions.
“Like, ‘I really didn’t understand everything that was going on, but now that I know how do I learn more?’ And ‘What do I do with the information I have now?’ “Robinson remembers.
Bliss Books & Wine took these conversations straight to Kansas City and began a virtual book talk with local writers. Robinson believes that this way her bookstore managed to retain some customers who stopped by once or twice only to say they supported a black bookstore and bought an anti-racist book.
“I think it allowed us to get these new customers and then introduce them to new books and some of the classics – some of the ones that were better known in the black community but not necessarily in the mainstream or the white community,” said she says.
While print book sales are still rising, the owners of the Black Bookstores, who spoke to NPR, say sales for them are down compared to last summer when they handled 100 to 300 orders a day. Some of the books bought at the height of the protests last summer were never completed. And there are no longer legions of protesters marching for accountability on consecutive days, despite their personal feelings towards the global network Black Lives Matter.
It is premature and inconclusive to measure America’s progress on racial relations a year after ex-cop Derek Chauvin viralized a video of George Floyd’s murder. However, if last year’s book boom on anything to do with white privilege and anti-racism is a litmus test, then Americans are at least theoretically intrigued by understanding racism and its by-products.