Toronto’s Glad Day bookstore might close by the end of the summer if things don’t start improving. Apparently this is because of a 20 per cent sales decline since last year, a huge drop in the last six months in particular, low winter holiday sales, and the failure of independent bookstores everywhere.
Also, there’s the Internet for porn now.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: Glad Day was founded in 1970 and has been operated out of an apartment, a shed, and now a second floor on Yonge Street near but not in the Village. When the Oscar Wilde bookstore in New York closed in March last year, Glad Day became the oldest gay bookstore in North America. More importantly, it’s known for promoting queer publishers and has been involved in various censorship battles more or less since it opened, notably, 1993′s R. v. Glad Day, which was a pro-porn win.
They stock fiction, non-fiction, biography, detective novels, mystery novels, queer theory, YA, political books, books in French, Spanish, German, and Italian, pulp fiction, and vintage erotica.
Have I mentioned the censorship battles?
Because yes, there is the Internet, and the Internet is a magical place. It is (for now) mostly free of legislation, and of your neighbours watching you, and of a great deal of attention paid to state lines (unless you are in China, or in Canada and trying to use Hulu). And people sometimes get sued over what they say on it, which gives it legitimacy, in a way. The Internet also provides opportunities for things that couldn’t exist before to exist, for new communities to form, for people who maybe wouldn’t necessarily have a strong voice in the traditional print publishing model to get one, and find an audience, and for that audience to find them, and it is impossible to overstate just how important that is in a lot of ways.
But in some ways, the Internet is too easy. The censorship battles that have been fought at the Canadian border over books that have the word “anal” in them have been intense, whether they be BDSM porn or information on gay safer sex practices, and those battles are frequently only in regards to materials headed to stores like Glad Day, or Little Sister’s in Vancouver. And it is those battles that do things like reach the Supreme Court and get attention and create change. Battles over the words that Google, for example, defines in their SafeSearch list — which is known for flagging words for female, but not male, genitalia — are still important, particularly since Google can sometimes function as an information gatekeeper. And as people get even more used to taking the Internet seriously then discussion about those kinds of limits will be more important. But there is a certain type of statement made from having something available online, and a different and frequently much stronger statement made from having that something staring you in the face with the power of a publishing industry (however small and dying) behind it, which is why physical stores are still important, and why physical books are still important, and why having physical places that sell those books, with advertising and a storefront and physical street address that the Internet cannot mirror, are very important. Which is why Glad Day, despite all the arguments made by people like councillor Kyle Rae about “I don’t know who’s reading any more,” is still important and relevant and vital, not only for addressing issues around gay people, but for addressing issues around freedom of speech, and from there democracy, as well.
I am not going to say that Glad Day closing is censorship, because it would take a mastermind to engineer an economic crisis and challenges to the independent bookstore model with the goal of bringing down a single bookstore, and who has that kind of time? But the (potential) closure is still very, very worrisome.