Some very sad news arrived late last night, courtesy of Rob Kitchin: Murder Ink, the crime fiction bookstore on Dawson Street in Dublin, is closing its doors. Run for the last 12 years by Michael Gallagher (right), Murder Ink was always hugely supportive of Irish crime writers, and rarely failed to put a new Irish release front and centre in its windows - at no cost to the writer or publisher, I hasten to add. A combination of the economic downturn and Michael’s failing health contributed to the decision, although the fact that Dawson Street also hosts a Waterstones and a Hodges Figgis meant that it was never easy for Murder Ink to capitalise on its niche appeal. An unfailingly warm and welcoming proprietor, and hugely informative about crime fiction domestic and international, Michael Gallagher will be sorely missed as a supporter of Irish crime writing.
It really has been a funny old week on ye olde blogge. On Tuesday I covered the death of independent publishers and the revolution in publishing; on Wednesday I had a piece in the Irish Times on the unique relevance of crime writing to modern Ireland; yesterday I featured Arlene Hunt’s launch for BLOOD MONEY at the newly opened Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar, and tied that in (with a nod to the impending launch of the iPad) with the availability of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS in a variety of formats courtesy of Smashwords. So I’m feeling a little guilty sitting here this morning, as if I’ve somehow betrayed Michael Gallagher in particular and independent bookshops in general, especially as I haven’t darkened the doors of Murder Ink for about two months now. Sentimental tosh, of course: the industry is a machine designed for one purpose only, and that’s to maximise profit.
Sentimentality aside, you may have noticed that I haven’t provided a link to Murder Ink, and that’s because the shop didn’t have one. A crucial failing in this electronic age, you’d imagine, although it’s very probably because there was no way Murder Ink could compete on-line with the likes of Amazon. Even so, an on-line presence is at the very least an essential marketing tool as the publishing industry slowly migrates to the web. But it’s not just as a marketing tool that the industry is utilising the web: with the advent of e-publishing, writers are more and more using the tools available to by-pass the traditional model of the industry itself. In the week that Murder Ink announced that it will no longer be doing business, for example, the writer JA Konrath announced March sales of $4,200 from e-books alone.
The death by a million cuts of the independent bookstore is not just an erosion of the traditional publishing model’s core, and it’s not just a machine-like milling out of diversity and originality in favour of blandly homogenous fare. It’s also a very human tragedy in terms of jobs lost, incomes destroyed and lives ruined. “We are living through a revolution as enormous as the one created by Gutenberg’s printing press,” claimed Sameer Rahim in Monday’s Daily Telegraph, and although it’s unwise to make definitive pronouncements while a revolution is ongoing, it appears that, once the dust has settled, there will be very few independent bookstores left standing. It may also be the case, if JA Konrath is any example, that the newly modelled landscape of this Brave New World will boast tens of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of independent booksellers. Or writers, as they were formerly known.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.