Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why I Don't Go to Bookstores Anymore

So my sister, Melissa, and my niece, Mallory, were in Seattle, visiting for me for a few days and my niece asked if we could go to a bookstore so she could pick up a new book, since she had finished rereading one of those Twilight sagas for the umpteenth time. She didn't want any of the gay-themed books I tried to press upon her. What can I say? It breaks my heart...


Being the good host and uncle I am, we trekked out to University Village, where there's a huge Barnes and Noble store. Two stories, music, movies, and more books than you could shake a stick at. Thousands upon thousands of them, all begging, like pups in a pound, to be given a good home.

Personally, I rarely go to bookstores anymore, which might surprise you. I'll tell you why.

First of all, I immediately get pissed off at Barnes and Noble and their Nook device. Why? Because they allow Nook owners to read ebooks in their stores for up to one hour...for free. I have a lot of books available for the Nook, many of them shorts (which can be read in an hour), which means the free policy robs me of any royalties I might get. Why buy the book when you can read it for free in the store?

But my Nook quibble is minor. What really makes me not want to go in bookstores anymore is, as an author, I find them depressing. Even more, as a gay author, I find them doubly depressing.

It's Pride month, and I searched in vain throughout this ginormous store for a LGBT section. There wasn't one! And I really couldn't find even many gay-themed books, which made me sad.

But what really gets me down (like rainy days and Mondays) is the bookstore itself and all those books. All those books! It almost makes me want to throw up my hands and surrender (or at least throw up). How on earth does one compete with all those books upon books upon books? Going back to the dog pound analogy, one has to wonder how any dog/book ever gets adopted when the pound/bookstore is so huge?

Fortunately, I am a glass half full kind of guy, otherwise a trip to the local Barnes and Noble would send me into the deepest pits of despair. I see it this way: somehow, I do manage to sell my own books, even though you'd have to order one to get it into my local B&N. So I'm very grateful that, with all this massive competition, there are still readers out there who not only seek out, but actually spend their hard-earned dollars to see what I've dreamed up.

And when I think like that, I realize I'm a pretty lucky guy.

One more note: when I walked into the store, I said to Melissa, "Don't let me buy any books." I have a to-be-read pile at home that rivals the Sears Tower. But did she listen to me? Did I listen to myself? No, I snatched up a copy of God Still Don't Like Ugly, the sequel to God Don't Like Ugly, which I had just read.
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  1. LOL! I love book stores, no matter how daunting they may be. I have the same purchase problem you do, though. It's not safe to let me carry a debit card into a bookstore...ever.

    The things that annoy me are (one I agree with you on) finding what you want. Even if what you want is fiction that has a section, it's not always filed right. Ask me about finding Stephen King's EYES OF THE DRAGON (fantasy) in horror, because King normally writes horror, or straight fantasy books written by an author that ALSO writes romance shelved in the romance section. Rolling eyes. Does the bookstore really think misrepresenting what books are does anyone (including themselves) a favor?

    The other thing I hate? Well, I'm not fond of the Nook free reading thing either...or at least not if short stories are included in it, unless they are already free reads...in which case, carry on.

    I find seeing the really horrible, copycat plots and blurbs depressing. Not only does it mess with me finding something I personally want to read, but it makes me wonder why the store wants twenty Poodles on the shelf when they could have a Poodle, a German Shepherd, an Akita, a Husky...


  2. Amazon has become my bookstore. Plus I frequent a local used book store. B&N has a kind of sterile big box feel that turns me off.

  3. I so agree with you, Brenna...especially about the wonderful dog analogy. Guess that's what happens when business people get the upper hand over artists (and readers, unfortunately). And what you said about misfiling? In this B&N I wrote about, everything was filed under SCI-FI, including ALL the horror. We both know it's not the same genre at all. And these people should be book experts!

  4. I'm with you, Mark. I do almost all my book shopping online these days. At least online, one can find the smaller presses and less cookie cutter stuff much more easily.

  5. WHAT?!? How can they file horror under SCI-FI??? Blasphemy!
    **is scandalized**
    I'm being serious here. Don't mess with my horror, people.

    I hear you, Rick. From an author perspective, it's kind of daunting. OTOH, yeah, my books aren't exactly ON those shelves, are they? Ha. From a reader perspective, B&N is like an overpriced candy store. Lots of cool stuff I'm not gonna get because I'm cheap. I like the used book stores. I could spend literally half the day in a good used book store, poking around in all the corners. Just ask anyone who's ever made the mistake of going in one with me *g*

  6. As for gay-themed books, B&N is better than many, but they mostly have the "better known" authors like. I suppose, like any big chain, they concentrate on those most in demand. I have equal trouble with many lesser-known non-gay authors. Their books are categorizaed without distinction to being gay. Which I consider a good thing, but makes them more difficult to find. But at least they're not put into a "perv" section.

  7. The demise of bookstores in this country not only is depressing it's suicidal to us as a nation. Kindle or Nook, Americans just don't read as they used to. We're listed as #7 in readership while ex-Communist country Russia is #1, though it's doubtful if they're reading anything of value, besides the usual vampires and shapeshifters....gimme a break!

    Just a few weeks ago I was in NYC thinking I'd go to a bookstore if I was able to find one. I did, the old Strand, on 12th and Broadway, but my wheelchair prevented idle cruising between the aisles. Actually got depressing when I thought that just a block away was the historic bookseller's row but now hoity-toity boutiques. Very depressive I left.

    Sad to say I now get my books on Amazon, doesn't feel like the real thing though.

  8. I don’t like bookstores either, they demoralise me. I look at all the titles and authors and I get jealous because I’m not among them and probably never will be. I did once slyly slip a copy of one of my own books onto a shelf in my local Waterstones just so I could boast hand on heart that they’d once had my title in stock (sad I know, but I don’t care) I like to think someone actually did try to buy it and it fills me with glee to think of the staff in Waterstones trying to find a price for it on their computer system.

  9. I buy most of my books from the Book Cellar. Partly because I'm a strong believer in keeping my money in the neighborhood, but also because I always stumble upon something I've never heard of.

    Some don't like that that, due to its small size, the selection is small. I believe that's its strength. The shelves are as well-edited as its cafe's beer/wine selections. If they don't have what I'm looking for - i.e., the latest Elizabeth George - I special-order. Within days, I get the call that its in.

    Lastly, much as some friends love their Kindles, I'm avoiding the new technology. There's something glorious about holding a book in one's hand. Most of all, I will fight for my local independent - my haven. If bookstores go away, I fear Fahrenheit 451 will be more frighteningly relevant than ever.

  10. I understand why big chains don't stock smaller, lesser-known authors: shelf space. But I still think they could make some effort to showcase good work by non-marquee names, as part of their responsibility to bring good literature to the masses? What? They're responsibility is only to make money? Really?

  11. I must admit I love bookstores, even though I've never been able to get any of them to carry any of my books or let me stage a signing when a new one comes out. Right now, I'm out of work again and even used books are too expensive, God forbid I could afford a new ebook reader when my perfectly good Rocket sits idle because it won't talk to my serial portless laptop . Elise in Lynchburg, VA

  12. Believe me, I do understand the sadness that is shopping in the bookstore. However, in terms of the comments about being able to read on the Nook free for an hour, I do want to point out a thing or two.

    Yes, it definitely doesn't work out for short story authors. However, if you're reading a novel, you might just get hooked enough to buy it.

    When I was a bookstore manager, I would have people come in and copy entire recipes out of cookbooks, all the hotel and travel information out of travel guides and would spend hours doing it.

    Also, a person can sit in a public library or a bookstore and read an entire novel in one sitting if they choose to. Typically, the library has paid about 20-40% of the cover price for their copy, and loan it out to anyone who wants to read it. You stand to make more money off of the person who read your book for one hour than from a patron in the library or a weekend Borders enthusiast (which I see tons of when I go in...people reading, nobody buying).

    So the 1 hour thing on the Nook isn't really that bad when you put it in comparison with people parked in their overstuffed chair in B&N reading an entire book on their day off and not paying for it. At least it's exposure!

  13. Thanks for the silver lining viewpoint, Jay. I hadn't thought of it that way, but it's a valid point.

  14. I rarely, if ever, bother with chain bookstores. I've been buying mostly ebooks, from ARe, Fictionwise, and various publishers. If a book has DRM, I'm not interested in buying it or reading it at this point.

    Print stuff I've been primarily getting from my library, but I've been less and less interested in reading print.

    I do a certain amount of serendipitous book shopping in used bookstores and thrift stores, which I find more fun than shopping for new stuff.

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  16. Interesting post, Rick, because it brings to the surface comments I've wanted to expound upon. I love bookstores.....but not to browse for books. Yes, that's true. I go for the atmosphere, for my cup of java and to write. Weird, I know. I rarely leave the cafe area to browse for books. I do enjoy picking up a magazine, though, but I don't browse or buy my books at a bookstore.

    Okay....Amazon. I do almost all of my book buying....paper and eBooks, on Amazon. Yet why do so many of my sisters condemn and vilify Amazon? They shout that they hate it and what it stands for and lament it as a necessary evil. Then don't sell on Amazon. If you are with a small press or POD press, most of the sales will be gone if you don't sell on Amazon. Does that make them an evil, big, controlling monopoly? No. B&N and others also sell online. I love Amazon. If I were to say that among certain circles in lesbian fiction, I would be crucified. Yet, I note that many commentators here do like and use Amazon. Don't most authors realize that no matter who sells your books, everyone will be taking a chunk of the profits for themselves? And personally, since I own and have my own publishing imprint, I can really love their eBook publishing deal. EPublishers will be able to keep 70% of their eBook sales starting at the end of June or July. And I also supported Amazon's call for not pricing eBooks over 9.99. Look at what happened when publishers were allowed free reign for hardback and paperback pricing. Who can afford a hardcover these days?

    I am not shy to say I support and shop exclusively at Amazon. It is easy on my budget. It's quick. They have everything I want. I can market and sell all my books there without a hassle, including some great royalties for eBook sales.

    So, since my books are not shelved in local and brick and mortar stores and I don't purchase books there, I won't miss them if they disappear. I will miss the coffee, magazines and atmosphere for writing. I guess I can find a coffee shop somewhere to allow my Muse to roam free.....

    I still scratch my head over the anti-Amazon sentiment though.

  17. Great post Rick!
    I'm a small bookstore kind of person. Lately, I've noticed the removal of the chairs from one of our local B&N - a sly way of keeping people from sitting and reading books without paying for them. (piracy of another sort)
    I agree about the Nook and the read for an hour thing...but perhaps they limit it to only books of a certain length? I'll have to ask next time I'm in.
    We frequent our local samll bookstore (which has both resale and first sale books, author signings, reading groups, and friendly familiar faces, who actually do know their genres/writers). And, they have lovely worn, comfy chairs to sit in, tho not enough.
    And my B&N has a GLBT section - one bookcase - where everything is crammed together - but at least its there.
    I've gotten to where I read on my reader or computer, buy from publisher's sites and from Fictionwise and even Amazon for print.
    The important thing is not where you buy, but that you BUY.

  18. I don't go to bookstores too much, either, I find only the more popular authors I read and never the lesser-known names. Plus, I get tired of all non-book items taking up space that could be used for books. Do they really need to sell candy, gum, pens, pencils, fuzzy little stuffed animals and glitter nail polish for little girls? Ridiculous! Also, it breaks my heart to see books by non-authors. I get sick of looking at books by The Real House Wives, Paris Hilton and other pseudo-celebs with a schtick. I prefer used bookstores (which are few and far between) and purchasing directly from publishers. Lynn is right, it's not important where we buy as long as we buy.

  19. I also get depressed by the preponderance of ghost-written books about some vapid celebrity's lifestyle. Obviously someone cares, since they sell...and that's sad. My books won't make it to their shelves because they are eBooks and POD. But my loyal friends and readers buy them from my publisher or from me. The last few times I bought into a series of books, I got disappointed by the steadily-decreasing level of writing in each subsequent book. I'm not sure who to blame: the author, the publisher, or the system that makes them keep publishing crap because they think the author's name alone will sell it. I refuse to pay for hardcovers, and even though I don't own an e-reader, I'm looking into it. For the tactile experience of REAL books, I'll continue to shop at used-book stores, so I can smell "the ages on the pages".