Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fall of the Roman Empire (and not the fun color changing kind)

Word of the day: aesthete - One having or affecting great sensitivity to beauty, as in art or nature

Blech. What a lame-o word.

So I'm in a book club, because I like books. And clubs. Our reading savoir faire this go round was How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. Hilarious book, brings up a lot of funny points about the industry and how bestsellers become so popular, but that's not why we're here today, kiddies. But seriously, if you're interested in getting published read this book, because it will strike more than one chord. And bring some relief to the hysteria.

But I've brought you here today to discuss the FUTURE OF BOOKSTORES. I've seen more than one complaint about the FUTURE OF PUBLISHING posts that a lot of agents and editors write, but this is about the demise of the brick and mortar stores, so I should be totally exempt from such vitriol. Right? Anyway, over at The Rejectionist they're (he's? she's? the perils of anonymous blogging!) interviewing Kevin Sampsell, a regular guy who just happens to run a publishing company, the largest indie bookstore in the US, and write books himself. As you would expect, he discusses the struggles that indie stores face, the looming ebook business, and whether or not he thinks paper books will ever die. This is a pretty common set of themes rolling around the blogosphere, and I usually keep to myself because I am not Nostradamus and therefore not interested in making wildly vague but nonetheless foreboding prophecies about such things. I prefer sandwiches. But I did want to share a little anecdote about my own experiences with a bookstore to highlight some possible issues in a very nonconfrontational way (because I'm not getting in a FUTURE OF PUBLISHING throwdown. Sandwiches, people.).

So my book club is tonight, and this time yesterday I still didn't have the book. Not cool. I went to my friendly neighborhood B&N, and shockgasphorror, they didn't have it. Strike one. So I sent my partner in crime to do my dirty work at another B&N on the other side of town. They had it, but shockgasphorrorfootstamping, they wanted...wait for it...FULL COVER PRICE. I am, through and through, an Amazon girl. And before that, I was a Half Price Books kind of girl. Paying full jacket price was, in my mind, for suckers and lesser wimps. Hardcover prices made me laugh out loud like a cocky superhero, and the concept of paying even for a trade paperback was ludicrous. I held firmly to this belief even through my own publishing days, when the prices of books made a little (but not much more) sense. But I needed that book and Amazon couldn't deliver on my admittedly outrageous timeline without charging me extra. But both Amazon and B& had the book for half price. Half. The. Price. I'm even saving them the shipping and they want to charge me full price? What the-?

So I concocted a plan to take it back the next day after book club, and then buy it on Amazon if I wanted. But...then I felt guilty. Guilty of robbing the bookstore, struggling as it is, of a legitimate sale. Guilty of being a part of the reason why the industry is suffering so much as it is now. Guilty of having a huge spaghetti dinner without exercising first (that probably didn't have as much to do with the book, in all fairness, but it lent to the overall sense of guilt). And once I started reading the book, and enjoying it, I thought I would give the bookstores a break and keep my full price copy, like I was giving a bum some money or petting an ugly cat.

But will that change my buying behavior? Uh. No. I don't pay full price for anything if I can help it; bargain racks and clearance stores are my cup of (discount) tea. And therein lies the dilemma. In order to keep such stores alive, I have to be willing to pay a higher price for the EXACT SAME PRODUCT. I'm not getting added benefit by physically going there and checking out. There's no customer service to worry about in bookstores because I'm not one to ask for help or recommendations from bookstore employees. Plus, there's alway the concern that the book I want won't be there, especially if it's not a bestseller. That's the rub; online stores provide the same product at a lower price point, they give me access to a much wider variety of books, and they save me the gas money of going to my local bookstores (the number of which are dwindling).

That's a hard argument to fight for me.

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