Reading is Fundamental

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com May 17 2011 4:00 AM ET

 Reacting to news in April that San Francisco’s 32-year-old A Different Light bookstore would be shuttering in the spring, writer Thomas Roche contemplated the reasons for the closure in the S.F. Appeal. Was it the switch to e-books and Amazon.com? The mainstreaming of LGBT literature? An overall exhaustion with gay themes? It’s all of the above, Roche surmised in the Appeal, which, ironically, is an online-only publication.

On the issue of gay overload, Roche wrote, “That sentiment is burnout.…When it comes to books, they may not ‘make ’em like they used to,’ but they make ’em. The problem is that most people don’t care.” That same sentiment was put forth by Different Light owner Bill Barker in an interview with the The Bay Citizen in 2010, a year after the Different Light store in West Hollywood shuttered. “I think that you can only tell the gay and lesbian story so many times,” he said.

Felice Newman, one of the founders of Cleis Books, a Berkeley, Calif.–based gay publisher that focuses largely on erotic titles, takes a more optimistic view. But it’s easier for her to do so — Cleis, founded in 1980, just recorded its best year ever in sales.

“There is a shift from paper to digital, but I think it’s expanding the audience,” Newman says. “There are lots of good gay books being put out.”

While publishers like Cleis can make money from digital versions of their titles, bookstores get a cut only if people purchase e-books through their websites — for many consumers, it’s easier to go to Amazon.

Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, the oldest gay bookstore in the nation, offers purchase of Google eBooks via GiovannisRoom.com. Owner Ed Hermance says if people want to preserve gay bookstores, they need to make an effort to shop at them, both online and inside the bricks and mortar.

“The main threat to us is Amazon becoming publishers’ only buyer and the readers’ only supplier,” Hermance says. “If people don’t want that to happen, they’re going to have to behave differently.”