Media literacy in a literate city

The holidays are a busy time for local bookstores such as Powell’s.

The holidays are a busy time for local bookstores such as Powell’s. Portlanders will not only be looking to find the perfect gift to satisfy the bookworm in their lives, but also for something to while away the hours on a long winter’s night. It’s a season of great bargains for the smart shopper, but also a time when the publishing industry attempts to dump its dead weight on unsuspecting consumers. With careful attention to a few key details, denizens of bookstores such as Powell’s can support local business, discover great literature and save money all at once.

Powell’s City of Books, located at 1005 W Burnside in downtown Portland, is not only situated in the heart of our fair city, but also close to the heart of many Portlanders. Its independent spirit and ability to cater to all literary tastes are equal in proportion to its massive stature. This is literally one city block of books, stacked four stories high, shelves packed to capacity. Shoppers can find the literature of Graham Greene and Henry Miller or the graphic novels of Alan Moore and Garth Ennis. In a single visit, one can find a book advising how to best fracture an arm and another telling how to mend it. En route to the cash register, one could take a cautious stroll through the aisle containing books on life in prison.

Too much good literature in one place might be a good problem to have, but it can be a tricky one to deal with. For one thing, with a city block’s worth of books all in one building, there is bound to be an abundance of overstock. While overstock books can yield great deals for the savvy shopper, their heavy merchandising in high-traffic areas of most bookshops can often lead shoppers to end up purchasing books they don’t actually want. These impulse buys don’t have to be a bad thing, but being a smart consumer is always critical at such junctures. First, one should ask whether the book in question is something that they are interested in reading, or just something that they find interesting. Often these can be very different things, as anyone with unread books on their shelves can attest to.

Once a decision is made to invest in a heavily merchandised title, be it overstock or something new that is being pushed aggressively by its publisher, the next stop should be at the book’s regular shelf space. If there are used or discounted copies of the book available, they will most likely be found at the book’s alphabetically assigned shelf space, in its genre-appropriate location. Merchants will always merchandise new product more aggressively, especially overstock that is past the date when they can return it to the publisher for full value.

Another way to limit impulse purchases of books that will spend more time at your bedside than on the shelf is to come prepared with a list of titles that you’re looking for. Even having a specific list of authors or subjects can prevent the hour-long shopping spree that is destructive both to the wallet and the lower back of the many Portlanders whose means of conveyance is bicycle. Then again, there are worse things in life than an empty wallet and a messenger bag full of great books.

In this age of digital media and the deluge of information that is offered at the touch of a button, print media does require more of the consumer. However, if the development of the printing press and the coming renaissance tell us anything, it is that the printed word also gives us so much more.

Regardless of budget or literary inclination, one thing that all Portlanders should consider is shopping locally. Whether losing oneself in Powell’s City of Books, or buying the latest graphic novel at Excalibur Books & Comics, buying print media locally is something that everyone can do to keep the printed word alive. It allows the consumer to develop relationships with their merchants, helps support the local economy and also helps sustain the business model of print media in a time when its future is less than certain. There are no dog-eared pages on a Kindle or an iPad, but is that really such a good thing? ?