No Sympathy for Bookstores

The general premise is that if you want to be a writer, you should buy books whenever you can, whether they are for yourself or gifts for others (this sentiment most often comes up around Christmas). I don't have a problem with this, to be honest. Support the business you work in. Makes sense to me.

This then moves on to the "and buy at your local independent bookstores." There are a lot of assertions to be made about the benefits of independent bookstores versus national chains and online purchasing. These claims are almost always made by people who live in large cities (notably New York) where independent stores like the Tattered Cover have well established their awesomeness1.

For the rest of the country, the reality of the independent bookstore doesn't call for such unprecedented love. Of all the small towns I've lived in (five in three different states), the independent bookstore is much the same: used books, limited selection, disorganized or poorly defined space, a limited new release section that only includes names like Grisham or King, and prices set at full value or higher. In my current town, there are two independent bookstores, both conforming to this description. They open at 10 and close at 4, so even if I felt obligated to patronize them, I would have to take a day off of work to do so.

Not growing up in a place like New York where an independent bookstore might have a large enough market to survive the B&N onslaught, I am not enamored with the notion of the underdog2. Now don't get me wrong, I don't dislike them. There are stores like the Tattered Cover that have so well established themselves that people can mention them online and others know exactly what they're talking about. Two thumbs up for those places. It's the presumed obligation that rubs me wrong. A business needs to earn my business. If you cannot provide me the book I'm looking for at an hour in which I am able to patronize without requiring vacation spent, you won't get my dollars.

Not that the large chains are doing any better. My experiences with the last two paper books I've purchased have been miserable. I skipped my hometown Borders and B&N and went to the Borders on Boylston in Boston. This is one of the better Borders in the country, so I should be able to find Tad Williams' new release, SHADOWHEART, without much difficulty.

...or so I thought. The book wasn't on coop or on the shelf. There wasn't even space made for it on the shelf. The first three employees ignored me, talking to themselves. The fourth one had never heard of it but was able to confirm that they had six in stock. It ended up being on a cart because it hadn't been shelves yet. What kind of store doesn't have new releases shelved the day they're supposed to be released? When I worked at Blockbuster, Tuesday new releases were shelved Monday night after closing like any common sense business would.

If I had purchased the book online, it would have been delivered today and for $13 less than what I paid for it at Borders. This brings me to the fundamental aspect of book shopping in any store, whether you're a local indie or a national chain:

You have to earn my business.

Amazon is the big bad wolf because that's how we roll in America. If you're the biggest, you're evil. Support the little guy. Fist in the air. Do the right thing. Go to your local independent bookstore and give them your business.

I don't give any business charity. If a local bookstore earns my business, it's on them and good luck to them. That's the kind of place I'll support and speak well of (and often--have you seen how many times I reference Jackie's Diner on my website?). Spare me the guilt trip. I was raised Catholic. It doesn't work.

I really wish Nashua (or even downtown Boston) had a place like the Tattered Cover. There's an antique bookshop near where I work, but that doesn't do much for me. Otherwise, it's online purchasing or continued bad experiences with the national chains (I ranted on twitter what happened when I tried to buy Bujold's CRYOBURN, so I won't repeat that, but it was even more annoying than this time around).

More so than ever, I am pleased with my decision to go e-only in my book purchases3.

1 I lived near the Tattered Cover when I lived in Denver. It is indeed awesome.

2 Which is weird, because usually I'm a sucker for an underdog.

3 SHADOWHEART is the last in the Shadowmarch tetralogy, so this should be the last paper book I buy, depending on how much farther Bujold takes the Vorkosigan series.