For much of the 80s and 90s, the Left Bank Books Collective expanded to include two other projects: AKA Books, a used bookstore in Seattle's University District, as well as a wholesale distribution and mail order project known as Left Bank Distribution. Neither of these projects exists today due to financial problems and rental situations in Seattle.
Left Bank is collectively owned and operated by its workers, and has been since its inception. As an anarchist collective, Left Bank has no bosses or managers. Decisions are made in bi-monthly collective meetings based on a consensus process. Despite all the changes over the years, Left Bank Books continues to thrive at our Pike Place Market storefront thanks to Seattle's radical community and the many folks who visit us from out of town. See you next time you're in the neighborhood!
In 1973, Left Bank Books was founded by a small collective. In the late 1990s Left Bank Books became registered as a federal corporation. This transition was made namely so that in the event of financial difficulty at the store, individual employees would not be held financially responsible. Left Bank Books is not federally registered as a non-profit.
WHY A COLLECTIVE? So, why work in a collectively run business, and not one with a hierarchical structure? In our collective individuals are equally empowered to make decisions related to the store. We prioritize sharing knowledge and information with each other so that no one person possesses all the information about a particular task. We prefer to work in a non-hierarchical setting. All decisions are made through an informal consensus process. This means that all decisions are discussed until collective agreement is reached.
In the late 1990s the market for bookstores really began changing. Corporatization caused chains to proliferate, putting a lot of independent bookstores out of business. Financially, book distribution projects made an even smaller profit margin than most bookstores. One key way to make a book distribution project successful was to do business on a large scale. But, other radical book and literature distributors started up, as well, and the market became saturated in the 1990s, and LBD found it more and more difficult to run the mail-order project in a way that was financially sustainable. Publishing is another way to make a larger profit margin, but Left Bank only published occasionally, and this was not our focus, so making profit from publishing was not reliable for LBD. In the end the collective chose to end the mail order distribution project, so that it would stop losing money. Slowly, over the following ten years we paid off our debts from the distribution project with money we made from donations and from bookstore profits. Some accounts were no longer in existence by the time we had the money to pay off our debt, and other accounts forgave our debt as solidarity with our project.
Overall the record of the LBD project is sort of a time capsule, representing a snapshot of what was going on in the world of radical publishing during the 1980s and 1990s in the USA, and internationally. Some of the accounts we had during that time are independent and radical bookstores, publishers, magazines and authors that are no longer in existence. The archive of the LBD project is, in some ways a record of LBD itself, and is in other ways, a record of the radical and independent literary community during that time period.
You can visit our in-store Library that consists of many of the titles we used to distro as well as publish, or check out numerous titles to take home from the L@s Quixotes Lending Library located in the Wildcat.