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John Grisham

Mississippi’s two big indie bookstores grab Grisham lifeline

By JACK WEATHERLY

Independent bookstores are always facing changes in the marketplace that can threaten their very existence.

First came the chains, then the Internet, which gained the upper hand over all booksellers.

Then Amazon, which as the name suggests, has become the biggest retail bookseller in the world.

Now the corona virus pandemic has cast an invisible net over the whole book publishing industry.

Entangled in the big net are the ultimate survivors of publishing: the indies.

Two bookstores in Mississippi are go-to places for those with a literary hunger during the no-go epoch: Square Books in Oxford and Lemuria Books in Jackson.

Selling signed books is a magnet for Lemuria and Square, and no name is bigger in that category than John Grisham, a one-man industry who turns out at least one bestseller a year.

This year, it will be two.

“Camino Winds” went on sale April 28 as a sequel to “Camino Island” published in 2017.

It is not one of his annual legal thrillers whose leaves drop from his imagination every fall.

The setting for the Camino books is a bookstsore, which is largely modeled on Square Books, said John Evans, owner of Lemuria.

And a twofer couldn’t be better for the two Mississippi indies.

“In Mississippi, it means a lot, especially to Square Books and Lemuria, since we’ve been working with him for so long,” Evans said.

Arrival of a Grisham book is “usually a high traffic” event in the store, Evans said, but not this year, with the lockdown ordered by Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, which mirrors a similar order from Gov. Tate Reeves.

Lyn Roberts, manager of Square Books, said Grisham is very generous with signed copies. “We’re very grateful to him.”

Roberts said Square Books sales are down 70 percent since the onset of the pandemic in March. Evans said Lemuria has not been hurt to that extent.

Booksellers do not set the price of new books, which is controlled by the publisher, Roberts said. In the case of Grisham’s latest, that will be $28.95.

Sellers catch a break from publishers’ (Doubleday in this case) discounts ranging from 40 percent to 46 percent, Roberts said.

Square Books closed its doors on March 18 and sold by delivery and shipping until Reeves’ shelter-in-place order starting April 3, when curbside sales began.

Meantime, the two largest Mississippi indies grabbed a lifeline in the choppy seas of the storm that is shaking the world.

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About Jack Weatherly