Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The art of the bookstore
First, let me start by saying that I understand completely the pressures bookstores are under. I get that. But I'm not convinced that turning bookstores into "department stores" (which is what the manager told me the bookstore now was) is the solution.
I've been reading a bit about bookstores and their problems and the way we - the readers, the public - use them. And one of the things, maybe the only thing, that seems clear is that human beings, readers, all of us, like to browse. And we like to browse in an actual store.
Some independent bookstores have started a campaign that outs people who come into bookstores, browse, get information and advice from booksellers and then buy their books online - sometimes right in the store. I get that, it's insulting, as well as undermining the bookstore's financial viability. But it does do one thing - the fact that people are still using bookstores for information and advice means that they're not getting it online. Bookstores still have value.
Now I buy 90% of the books I buy in an actual bookstore. I buy the occasional book online, but it's usually a book that's not available in a real bookstore - out of print, unusual, self-published. That's it. And I buy a LOT of books.
But my local bookstore (and yes, I understand that it's hard to make things work in an expensive downtown location) is making it harder for me to buy books at their store. It's a three story high store and on the main floor they have: a Starbucks, KOBO e-readers and accessories, new hardcovers and featured hardcovers with the occasional trade paperback thrown in), a few CDs, and the rest of the floor (probably 2/3rds of it) is taken up with stuff. Vases. Cards. Baby stuff. Food and things to serve it with. Glasses. Coffee. Calendars. Cards. Journals.
They used to have two racks of bestselling paperbacks on the main floor and I bought a lot of books from that rack because it was a quick in and out. Now, there are no paperbacks on the main floor, in fact, I have to go up two escalators to get to them.
Many times I don't have time to go up and, more than that, many times, because I'm a browser and don't often (always) have a list or a name, I don't have time to go upstairs and wander. I liked the bestseller racks - it gave me an idea of what was going on out there, and I often bought a book that I wouldn't otherwise have bought, discovered a new writer I wouldn't otherwise have discovered.
So, there's my rant. I get the economic problems bookstores have. I get the reasoning behind the "department store" on the main floor. I get all of this - but if bookstores want to succeed, they need to sell to buyers like me - big spenders, impulsive spenders - rather than changing the bookstore into a place where I can only buy vases which are way more expensive than I can buy them at a "real" department store.