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Back when I was in law school and Rush Limbaugh published his first book, I walked into my favorite bookstore in Charlottesville to pick up a book I had ordered (this was before amazon) and took note of a sign behind the counter saying something like, “We don’t carry Rush Limbaugh’s book, so don’t even ask.”
Obviously some people had asked. And that irritated the store’s owner.
I made some comment to the clerk, indicating that while I respected the store’s right to stock whichever books it pleased, I also had the right to go elsewhere to buy my books. His refusal to carry Rush’s book decreased the likelihood I would return to that store. The clerk observed that I had not been the first to make such a comment.
I had wanted to support the Williams Corner Bookstore, an independent bookseller on the downtown mall. It was a great place to take a break from my legal studies and browse for books. I appreciated their literature section. But, it troubled me that they would exclude the book of a prominent conservative while including many tomes by left-wing scholars, activists and hangers-on.
When a Barnes & Noble opened up in the Barracks Road Shopping Center, I took my business there.
The owner, Michael Williams, may have blamed such superstore competition for putting him out of business in 1998, calling his rivals “Gangsters,” but I also wonder if his own bias also hurt his business.
I thought of the Williams Corner Bookstore’s demise when I read this weekend on Instapundit that some Barnes and Noble’s stores were not carrying (or hiding) Jonah Goldberg’s new book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Impressed that my local Barnes & Noble bookstore almost always includes a diverse array of books on its display tables (& shelves), I had intended to buy it there. But, after what I learned on Instapundit, I decided to order the book from amazon instead.
While I respect the right of any bookseller to refuse to carry certain books, we book-buyers also have the right to choose where we buy our books. Back in the 1990s, Michael Williams’s public statement that he wasn’t carrying Rush Limbaugh’s book caused him to lose a regular customer, a conservative law student who happened to frequent his establishment when looking for books in any number of categories.
And it’s pretty clear I wasn’t the only customer he lost.
The more bias booksellers show, the more customers will seek out other means of buying books. And with new technologies, we have more places to get our books.
Oftentimes, independent booksellers blame the big chains for driving them out of business. That’s only half the story. As the chain bookstores proliferate, I have tried to support independent booksellers, but have found often them staffed with rude or snooty clerks and biased owners like Charlottesville’s Michael Williams.
I would dare say that those independent booksellers which survive understand the importance of customer service — and of maintaining a broad and diverse selection of books.