On Gay Bookstores

Found a link to this article somewhere today, and as I finished reading it, I couldn’t help but think, “What are they whining about? Isn’t this a good thing?”

I don’t mean to sound insensitive to small business owners or anything. But, taking the somewhat altruistic claims of “gay bookstore” owners and the like at face value, you’d think they’d be tickled pink to find that society has evolved to the point where mainstream retailers take homosexuals seriously and no longer wish to avoid their custom. Hasn’t general acceptance, after all, been one of the main goals of most gay rights movements?

Or does that only extend to non-profit groups?

It’s no secret that I have some significant issues with the idea of “gay marketing”. Most of these revolve around the idea that it’s a fairly stupid strategy, given that there’s no homogenous group to market to. Homosexuality is not synonymous with homogebneity; as a group, we are no more likely to share one set of common values and priorities than are heterosexuals.

Thus, marketing tends (in the case of bookstores) to be aimed more at a specific subset of homosexuals who like to read mostly books about other homosexuals. It’s a valid niche category and all, albeit a rather boring one. And certain urban bookstores have made a small profit serving it for years. To a one, they all pushed the idea that “we have books you can’t find anywhere else”.

Well, now you can find them somewhere else. Now, people in Des Moines don’t have to dive into big city ghettos nor pay for shipping to get the information they want or need. One bookstore manager says, “But now gays take this all for granted, a byproduct of assimilation.” So he finds ghettoization and isolation preferable? Once again, I thought the idea was to create a world where one can take these things for granted.

Notice that I’m not talking about the sad decline of neighborhood independent bookstores here. The stores mentioned in this article are complaining about the loss of patronage from tourists and other oustide residents. I might be inclined to be more symapthetic if their arguments were framed in terms of neighbohood politics rather than merely a reaction to the fact that they don’t know how to evolve and compete in today’s marketplace. Then again, I also might not.

It seems the bookstore owners are more concerned about losing business than about promoting that “big gay ideal”. They’d apparently prefer that people were forced to work just a little bit harder in order to be sufficiently (and deservingly) homosexual. In other words, they want their customers to confine themselves to nice, paternalistic little overpriced ghettoes and shop only in their stores.

Methinks these “community-oriented” bookstore owners are a touch more capitalistic than they care to admit. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but to pretend that there’s some greater issue involved by attempting an annoying form of guilt-based marketing is a very bad thing. Niche retailers who are willing to do the work have found new life with online sales and by catering to new markets. Those who aren;t have whined themselves to death.

Gay bookstores are not non-profit organizations. They are businesses. Successful businesses are not successful because they maintain their customer base through pleas for charity. They’re successful because they know their market and innovate in response. I do not owe a business owner a living because he was “first”. I’ll glady contribute to it, however, if he does his job well and provides a service I want in a superior or convenient manner.