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Friday, December 4, 2009

Supporting Your Local Booksellers

I wanted to order a book this morning. A fellow member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has written a couple of mysteries about an elderly man with short term memory loss (Mike Befeler's Retirement Homes are Murder and Living With Your Kids is Murder)and I think one of them will be perfect for someone on my Christmas list. Ordering occurred to me when I got an email from one of my favorite independent bookstores announcing Mike's signing this Sunday. Unfortunately, I can't make the signing. So I promptly boinked my bookmark for Amazon.

Uh, what's wrong with this picture?

Don't get me wrong. I love Amazon. It's so easy. I can research book titles and availability instantly. I can get free shipping and discounts on popular books and films, notification when the price drops on something I'm hedging about. They have worked hard and developed a great online shopping model. BUT...

When I'm not sure of what I want, when I want to see what's new, what's captivating, which Italian cookbook has the prettiest pictures and easiest directions, which travel guide for France has things laid out in a useful way, I need to browse... I need to read the backs, flip the pages, compare, read a page here and there. You can do this at online booksellers, but it is actually slower (and much less satisfying) than having a stack of books at your side and comparing. The Amazon business and transaction model is primo, but the browse model falls short. And although Amazon will recommend "if you like this, you might also like this," it is the result of database tags and sales data and not the recommendation of someone who loves mysteries or fantasy or cookbooks.

So, one can browse a bookstore and then rightfully compare prices to get the best deal, right? Well, sure. Except that if we all do this, the brick and mortar stores will vanish right before our eyes. And they are doing that.

I just sent out about fifty packets of bookmarks and fliers to bookstores recommended by readers and fellow writers. As I had last sent out bookmarks in 2007, for Flesh and Spirit, I decided to validate the addresses on my list. Fully one-third of the bookstores on my list had gone out of business in the past two years. Many of them were independents who had messages on their dead websites: "After 65 years in the Bay Area..." or 50 years or 80 years, or "All of our stores in the DC area..." Many were Waldenbooks, small, friendly shops that a number of my readers mentioned had knowledgeable staff who loved reading. Borders/Waldens just announced another round of store closings last month.

And so, I left Amazon on this day, and bopped off an email to my friendly independent in Denver, asking them to get Mike to sign a book for me and ship it up here. It might cost me a few dollars more. I might have to pay for shipping. But I'm hoping Ron and Nina will be there next time I need to browse.

Buy at least one book from a local store this season. Chain or independent, big or small. Call it a vote for browsing!


Alan said...

"A Community's Bricks and Mortar: Karibu" Read it at http://alanwking.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/a-communitys-bricks-and-mortar-karibu/

carolwriter said...

Thanks, Alan. Eloquently spoken. Breaks my heart.


Amy C said...

I recently was hired on temporarily at one of my local Borders Express stores for the holiday season, hoping to get on permanently. But my store, along with the other two are closing by January 31st.

It was very saddening to learn this, because not only was I hoping for a job but it's the store of choice for my mom and I to shop at. I can get pretty much any book, even if they don't have it stocked, they can order it, and ship it right to my house. But now they're closing. Of course there is still the big Borders and the two B&N's, but they're not the same. The staff doesn't seem to have that friendliness.

carolwriter said...

So sorry to hear that, Amy. That's exactly what's happening. Not only are the independents lagging, but these smaller, friendlier (in many cases) "neighborhood corporate" stores. Best of luck in finding a good situation.

Anonymous said...

It isn't just the Internet hurting these shops. In my area an amazing new/use/rare book shop is hoping to move instead of close, because the city is "revitalizing" the downtown and raising rents. They can't survive the construction nor higher rent.

carolwriter said...

Same thing happened to my favorite small independent in Denver. Fortunately they were able to grab a new location a few blocks away and restart. So far, so good. I wish the same for your store.