Everyone is talking about it. Me, I keep hoping that I wake up from this bad dream. Shocklines, the store, no more? Unthinkable.
Of course, like everyone (or most everyone) else, my main concern is for Mr. Matt Schwartz and his health and happiness. This had to be a tough decision, but I know he thought it out and is taking the right course for himself.
I think some good will come of it. The genre might become healthier. If more individuals buy direct from the publishers, then they will prosper. In a perfect world that would translate into lower prices for their books. I know that Matt was responsible for selling a hell of a lot of their products. I believe that 40% is the standard for a bookseller. That's a hell of a bite out of the budget.
I have been loyal to Shocklines and I gave 99% of my business to Matt. I felt good about it, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to question that loyalty. And the feedback I got from various sources had something to do with it too. I'm close friends with a small press publisher or two and one confided to me that it was really killing them to sell so much through a secondary seller. Now, this individual was most certainly not knocking Matt or anything, but the financial reality of the situation was grim. I think we should give a lot more support direct to the publication source.
Then there is a flip side to that coin. A lot of small press publishers still require payment for pre-orders. Most of us have been burned in the past. By paying for books that came out months or even years later than they were promised, or worse yet, they never came out at all in some circumstances. Ouch. It especially makes it hard for startup publishers. It's a dicey prospect to shell out 40 or 50 bucks to a company with no track record. With Shocklines, it was like we had an insurance policy.
The store will be gravely missed, but others are out there and someone else will probably start one up soon. Thinking back to some of the dubious service I've gotten from various bookstores in the past gives me the heebie jeebies. It was really hard to find a reliable, safe trustworthy source for genre books. But heck, we can always fall back on Amazon.
But what of the great deals with signed mass market paperbacks? And chapbooks sold with no shipping costs? I'm afraid that those days are numbered. I honestly can't see anyone doing so much for the customers and authors and publishers as Matt did.
And you know what Matt came out of it with? A shitpile of debt. But we're in debt too. Debt to Matt Schwartz, for everything he's done for the genre. I'm not the first to suggest this, but I'll reiterate it. If you care for Matt, if you feel gratitude and if you hate to see the store go...then you should buy a book. Or two or three. He has a huge stockpile of books that need to be sold. Buy one. Buy a few. Even if it's just a mass market PB or a chapbook or something. And buy more next week. If you can't find something on that site that you want, you're either rich and own a crapload of books, or you're a picky son of a bitch. Or maybe you don't read horror fiction.
Remember the thrill, the joy, the excitement of getting a fat package from Shocklines? I sure do. It was always a treat and I never became jaded about it.
Of course, the site will go on, just as the message board will. The Shocklines Forum is loved by many, despised by some, but ignored by few that give a damn about horror fiction. Considering all that has gone down there over the last couple of years, I'd say that Matt has done a more than admirable job maintaining it. Some emphatically disagree, but there is no way that anyone can manage a community that size and please everyone. It's impossible. And it didn't become the biggest, most active, explosive, damndest message board in the field for no reason. Matt did things right. His way wasn't everyone's way, but we all view things differently.
The excitement and enthusiasm there had an immeasurable impact on the field. God knows how many lurkers chose to buy books because of it, or how many casual readers became full-fledged horror/small press fanatics because of The Shocklines Message Board.
The people there can be irritating. They can be infuriating and offensive. They can and will argue, fight, flame, incite and drive any sane person to madness. They can also be possessed of incredible acts of kindness, human decency and damned near Sainthood. I know that at the hour of my greatest trauma, my most personal tragedy, The Shocklines Community were there to ease my suffering. With words, deeds, compassion and extraordinary generosity. I get choked up right now thinking about it.
Matt isn't going away. He is too vital a force in the horror field. I'm not exactly sure where his site and his enormous influence and support will go, but I'm sure that we'll all be richer for it.
Photo of Matt Schwartz by John Everson.