May 16, 2017

Neighborhood bookstores used to be places not just to buy books but to meet friends old and new, explore the racks, ponder ideas, and introduce children to the adventure of reading. But today, online sales have cut into bookstores’ bottom line so much that many have no choice but to close up shop forever. Even the biggest chains have many fewer locations today than they used to. The survivors must do all they can to remind readers of the many reasons to visit a bookstore.

One of the biggest reasons has traditionally been book signings. It’s exciting to meet a favorite or emerging author and walk out of the store with something that’s been personalized. Speaking from my own experience, it’s rewarding for the authors as well, giving us a unique opportunity to promote our work and to meet and thank people from around the country who are interested enough to come out and stand in line. But because of new and outrageously restrictive state regulations on signed merchandise –- designed to protect buyers of sports and entertainment memorabilia but maddeningly misapplied here –- Californians may have to start thinking of book signings as relics of the past, like free speech at Berkeley. The rules are so complicated and the legal risks so high that bookstore owners will likely just give up hosting them.

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Details are at the link, along with a video interview with Bill Petrocelli, owner of beloved Bay Area bookstore Book Passage. After seeing this, you are guaranteed to be just as exasperated as I am.


On the bright side, a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Book Passage, which typically hosts about 700 author events each year. If anything deserves to be a relic of the past, it’s a toxic law like this one that further inhibits free expression.


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