Friday, December 18, 2009

Help Your Local Bookstore...Please

It seems that every day I see a notice in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY emailed news that another local bookstore has closed. It's heartbreaking.

As a kid, my mother always went food-shopping for the week on Wednesday and I went along with her to the mall (the grocery store was on the end of the local Village Mall). From what was likely far too young an age, I would run down to the bookstore while my mother shopped. Comic books were a quarter back then and the hardcover Hardy Boys novels were $2.50 (I still have all of the Hardy Boys novels.)

At some point, the mall was renovated and a new, two-storey bookstore opened, Wilmarc's. It's owner is still in the business, but on the distribution side. From about the age of fifteen or so, I started talking to the owner about working there. When I was seventeen or so, he finally offered me a job. Minimum wage was $3.10 and the employee discount was 10% off retail. When I started working there, I found out the standard discount to booksellers was 42%.

Oh, how far we have come. 10% off retail is a joke and now B&N and Amazon will give you at least 30% off any new hardcover. Their standard discount from publishers is at least 50% and sometimes more. And the "retail price" published on the book is merely a suggestion.

When B&N started building superstores, they started discounting books 10%-25%. Not just best-sellers, but pretty much every book in the store. Local bookstores were discounting best-sellers, but every book in the store? They couldn't survive doing that and so neighborhoods lost quaint bookstores that made book shopping a treasure hunt and turned it into an experience as frustrating as trying to find the right washer for a nut at Home Depot. Shopping at B&N in New York City, I often waiting for the clerks to ask me if I "wanted fries with that," so impersonal and "retail" had the experience become.

When I worked in a local bookstore, even at the tender age of seventeen, I got to know the regulars. And when people came in and said they needed a book for their dad, I would ask them what books they saw him reading and could recommend a new one by one of those authors or something similar. Try that at a "superstore" and see how well it goes. Presuming you can find someone on the floor or willing to leave the register to help you.

There are, I know, people who still appreciate customer service and the idea of being "hand sold" a book. If you are one of them, then be willing to pay an extra 10% or even 20% for a book and shop your local indie bookstore. You'll appreciate the experience and the owner of that store will certainly appreciate the business.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. My first few working years were spent as library and bookstore staff. It was always fun to introduce people to new authors who might fit their interests. Even though that was more than ten years ago, I still apply that talent when book shopping if I find a neighboring shopper in need. Intriguing conversations frequently ensue.

In addition to supporting the independent bookstore where one lives, include visits to the local independent bookstore(s) on travel agendas. It's an excellent way to learn about a new city, and you never know what you'll find inside.

Kate Ashe, Phoenix, AZ

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