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DSC_0046 Profile of A Different Drummer Books in Burlington, Ontario

After negotiating the sale in the latter months of 2009, Ian Elliot officially assumed ownership of A Different Drummer Books in Burlington, Ontario in February of 2010, following Richard Bachmann’s retirement. After twenty years of bookselling, managing inventory, fulfilling special orders, shipping and receiving, setting up and taking down author events, training new staff, and being the first smiling face customers would see as they walked through the door, Ian was finally in a position to, humbly, say, “The buck stops here.” Now responsible for all decisions related to stock, sales, personnel, and store events – a daunting prospect for any business owner – Ian has managed in short order to take a store with a long and rich history and imbue it with his own special kind of energy and enthusiasm.

Being able to make the big decisions as A Different Drummer Books’ new owner has meant that Ian can not only continue to do what he enjoys and does best – promoting great books and great authors – but also now realize his vision for the store as a “community bookstore,” committed to collaborating with the Burlington library, local educators, multiple Ontario school boards and educational institutions, including Charles Sturt University in Burlington, local artists, and musicians.

In addition to hosting more events in store and expanding and diversifying inventory, Ian has plans to increase the store’s online presence for event promotion and, “in the fullness of time to get the store’s inventory online for staff and customers.”

DSC_0054While A Different Drummer Books has always been a model of exceptional customer service and staff knowledge – so much so that it has thrived in a time when many other independents have closed in the face of overwhelming challenges to the book industry – Ian knows that it is important for the store and its staff to continually respond to changing customer tastes and expectations. To that end, Ian and his staff strive to provide the community with a variety of entertaining and thought-provoking author events, including their Book and Author series, and their Engaging Ideas series.

Quoting Ben McNally, Ian notes that despite heightened competition from online booksellers and e-books, “there is still room for a good bookstore.” “Good competition is a good thing” for A Different Drummer, he states, because it provides an “incentive to keep us sharp about what we do,” and “we have to do well to keep people coming to us.”

When asked about the e-book’s impact on the future of the book and the book industry, Ian is optimistic. It is not a “zero-sum game,” he says. “Lots of our customers have e-readers, but are still coming to the store to buy full copy.” The e-book, in Ian’s estimation, is a relatively minor development compared to two other more significant shifts dating back to the early 2000s that have had a more lasting effect on book culture, and especially the brick and mortar bookstore.

DSC_0025The first shift involved a change in the way that people viewed books as essential sources of reference. Google and Wikipedia in the last decade or so have largely replaced reference books like dictionaries and atlases, which were common in most homes. In general, books are not viewed in the same way, especially by younger generations, as valuable sources of information.

The second shift, “a tipping point,” which Ian notes has impacted all retailers, is the move to online shopping. Over the last ten years, the public has become much more trusting of online stores and assured of the safety of their personal information, so some book buyers are choosing to access their books through the Internet, rather than enjoying the experience of shopping in-store.

Ian, like many other book lovers, can’t imagine a world without the book. A “durable artifact” that is still “the most sensible way of disseminating information,” the book provides an aesthetic experience the e-book simply cannot. Ian cites the 2010 book, The Paper Garden, by Molly Peacock as the ideal example of a book whose texture and richness could never be adequately captured in digital form.

DSC_0028Despite competition from online stores and changing ideas about the value and importance of books, A Different Drummer Books, with Ian at the helm, continues to successfully connect readers and books, as it always has. There’s no reason to think that will change any time soon.




Copyright © 2016, Dana Hansen. All rights reserved.