When it comes to retail business, few companies find themselves involved in social and political issues like bookstores. The latest issue has been a response to North Carolina’s HB2 known as the NC “bathroom bill”. North Carolina has not protected workers who are LGBT and has language in HB2 that clarifies that the state does not intend to create a new class of protections based on sexual identity … and will not allow its cities and counties to create such a protected class.

We Are Not ThisAuthors have cancelled book tour stops in North Carolina and booksellers around the state have banned together to proclaim “we believe it is essential to be non-discriminatory, inclusive and tolerant, to promote freedom of speech and equality, and to guard against censorship and unfair treatment.”

Many of the beloved picture books we carry encourage respecting differences, actually embracing them. Our world becomes bigger and more compassionate when we don’t judge, bully, and isolate others.

The North Carolina booksellers are standing strong in their statement to their elected officials. They have a lot to lose in terms of their financial sustainability and ability to continue to provide safe spaces where people can gather and discuss issues, grow into their higher selves, and contribute to the evolution of humanity.

Bookstores are symbols of civility, education, lifelong learning, connection, and conversation. We celebrate the freedom to read, diversity and inclusivity.

Today, we in the book industry are shocked and saddened to see our colleagues in North Carolina battling for human rights in 2016 … in the United States of America. We can learn from the civil rights movement and all of those children’s books too. We stand with the North Carolina booksellers and believe we are better than this.

Publishers Weekly does such a good job in reporting on research that affects the book industry and their recent snapshot on today’s educational e-book market prompted me to think about how the results will affect the sale of print books in bookstores as students become familiar with using e-books.

Children may regard ebooks like parents regard computer screens: work.

Children may regard ebooks like parents regard computer screens: work.

Quoting from the 2014 School Library Journal “Survey of E-book Usage in Schools,” PW notes that 66% of schools across the country currently offer e-books, a 10% increase over the previous year. The portion of children who have read at least one e-book has increased steadily over the last five years.

There are issues galore that the educational community are grappling with: the digital divide; the cost of ongoing investments in technology, tech support, and staff training; selecting and sourcing e-books; plus providing the format that is best for the student and the subject being taught.

If we look to the future, it appears that the number of ways we can read will expand. Being able to read has always been important to success in life, now technical skills will be needed to access information.

It’s interesting that booksellers whose spouses work for Apple and Facebook note that families with roots in the field want their children to read print. They want their children to be well-rounded and able to focus on reading without distraction. Many limit “screen time” and look for ways to maintain a healthy attention span when there are many temptations for digital escape.

What will the students of today prefer as they age? My call is that those who have a balanced diet of reading electronically and reading in print will be proficient in researching and skimming information as needed for tasks. When it comes to reading for fun, turning the pages of a print book will be a break from technology, offering a sensory experience during those cherished moments for quiet adventure.

Listen to National Public Radio and you never quite know how your life might be affected. This week Diane Rehm interviewed Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism: the Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World and what lingered for me was the value meditation has in changing anything.

Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism, says change begins with our thoughts and leads to new mindfulness and way of being

Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism, says change begins with us

During the conversation, Mr. Ricard noted the link between meditation and our neurological wiring. A commitment to thinking differently, and using meditation as our dedication to the effort, can bring amazing results.

In our work with bookstore turn-arounds, it’s become clear that the obstacles to turning financial losses to business sustainability are deeply rooted negative beliefs, mostly about money, profits, greed and business. Lump them all together in a negative light, and we limit our capacity to create a healthy business.

Here are some positive beliefs that can help guide daily activities in creating a sustainable business:

* My awareness will help guide a positive outcome.
* I seek to learn how to prioritize my work so that I give the bookstore the best and most important things it needs.
* My ongoing learning will help me broaden my awareness and strengthen my ability to lead the business.
* If I want a different outcome, I am willing to rethink my routines.
* Our profits indicate that we are making magical connections with our customers; that they choose to buy from us confirms when we are paying attention and making wise choices.
* I am part of the business community that values people. Our presence provides healthy places to work and honors reading and lifelong learning.
* Our profits are what allows us to continue to contribute to a healthy local economy.

We often refer to the “Art and Science of Bookselling” because both are necessary for sustainability. For some, the art comes easy and the science, not so much. Expanding our insights and learning skills begins with mindfulness and openness.

This is an era of opportunity for indie bookstores to reach beyond the four walls of the store to bring tremendous value to your region. Note that instead of ‘community’, we’re now saying ‘region’ … with all of the store closings in the last decade, people feel lucky if their city or village has a bookstore, even luckier if it’s a lively independent bookstore. Customers are driving great distances for a ‘real bookstore’, even when books are just a click away.

Politics & Prose launches The Writer's Cottage building deeper relationships with customers and extending their reach throughout the region

Politics & Prose launches The Writer’s Cottage building deeper relationships with customers and extending their reach throughout the region

To move books out of the realm of commodities, indie booksellers like Washington D.C.’s Politics & Prose has developed a series of workshops and now a writer’s retreat. Spend a week on your own relaxing and writing, stay a week with a writing coach to guide you, join a week-long program with other writers. Engaging local writing teachers, partnering with a locally-owned lodging business, reaching out to fill a regional need … how very indie.

The bookstore can be the creative force being pulling all of the partners together, all parties promote like crazy to build attendance, each share in the proceeds, each benefit from having developed a one-of-a-kind experience that brings them tremendous word-of-mouth-marketing and customer loyalty.

Key is the focus on learning and growing … especially now with Baby Boomers retiring (many times, early) and wanting to engage their brains in meaningful things, there are all kinds of opportunities a bookstore can create in a “series” that appeal to travelers, lovers of classical literature, history buffs, military retirees, knitters and crafters, those writing family histories for their children and grandchildren, and on and on.

Building a successful business starts with love and an understanding of what others want or need. Booksellers are often the ones to be the creative force in bringing everyone together to create those unforgettable experiences that earn respect, appreciation, and loyalty, just like what Politics & Prose is doing with The Writer’s Cottage.

It’s a big, broad universe with the richness of cultures, ideas, opinions, and discoveries. In a bookstore, that’s the energy you feel by coming in, looking around, browsing and finding books to take home, and attending a presentation. It’s a fascinating world!

The opportunities to open a bookstore that is sustainable requires going beyond “selling books” to creating a place for those who love reading and love learning.

Let’s think of the bookstore as a fun, comfortable, friendly atmosphere for those who embrace life and want to keep learning throughout life… those lovers of travel and other cultures, creative and beautiful use of language, good food, loving relationships, healthy minds and bodies, lessons from history. Where can you find all of those things? In a bookstore.

Lifelong learners will come into the bookstore more often when we offer opportunities to connect and learn from others.

Lifelong learners will come into the bookstore more often when we offer opportunities to connect and learn from others.

In the selection we create, but also in the programs that bring people together to learn and grow, the possibilities are endless. Non-profit organizations, educational institutions, medical facilities, health and wellness centers all employ people who know and can share so much. Individuals who are crazy about a hobby, those history buffs, someone who has fallen in love with learning about the night sky … all can be wonderful non-author presenters who bring people into the store based on the desire to learn something new.

This quote from Einstein, featured in “The Age of Outrospection” in today’s issue of DailyGood in the graphic to the right, reminds us that there’s so much to learn in this vast world.

“A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘Universe’ — a part limited in time and space. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creates and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Programs in bookstores can be … and should be … so much more than an author reading. Think of all of the things your customers are interested in and find reasons for them to gather in the bookstore to connect on a common interest or concern.

Helping make meaningful connections is one of the most important opportunities for any bookseller and is often the difference between the bookstores that struggle trying to sell books and those who thrive because they have created … and become a community treasure for being … ann important center of the community. A bricks-and-mortar bookstore is the perfectly friendly, accessible place for every person at any age to widen our circle, learn new things, and feel part of an amazing universe.