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Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
For nearly half a century, Charis Books was a fixture of Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood. The stuccoed building served as a gathering place for feminist readers to browse, congregate, and participate in a litany of events. Before and after the bookstore’s recent move to Agnes Scott College, residents from across the city have relied on Charis Circle, its nonprofit arm, to access everything from homeless shelters to legal assistance.
In the wake of the pandemic, Charis Books has been forced to close its brick-and-mortar operation. Its owners are relying on online orders, gift-certificate sales, and donations to their nonprofit to continue paying their staff and operating both the business and nonprofit. So many independent bookstores are in a similar bind. Literary hubs such as the Strand in New York and Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., had to lay off employees; others like City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Marcus Books in Oakland, Calif., are relying on crowdfunding campaigns to stay afloat.
It’s not for a lack of demand. These past few months have seen a surge of interest in books. But the profits, by and large, are being siphoned to Amazon. The corporate behemoth, launched as “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore” in 1995, has dominated the book industry for years. Today, Amazon owns its own publishing unit, literary social platform, and line of e-readers. (And Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos own The Washington Post.) The retailer accounts for more than half of all book sales in the United States, and some have projected that share to grow to 70 percent, based on Amazon’s performance in April.
Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.