Saturday, June 5, 2010

Date night at the bookstore

I come from a book-loving family, which should be no surprise given my chosen vocation. When I was a kid, my family's idea of a weekend outing was to go to the local B. Dalton bookstore (it was the only bookstore that didn't require braving the student-infested streets of downtown) and each picking out a book to add to our shelves. Perhaps if our local library had been more accessible to our home we would have saved a lot of money and had far fewer books in our house, but it wasn't.

As soon as I was old enough, I got a job at that B. Dalton... what possible better job could a kid have? Of course, when book lovers work at bookstores, they end up getting paid in books, so perhaps I could have had a more lucrative job, but not a better one.

My husband comes from another book-loving family. His family lived near more used bookstores, his mother even worked restoring collectible books at one for a while. His family, like mine, felt a day in a bookstore was a day well spent.

I suppose it should be no surprise, given our childhoods, that when my husband and I are looking for a good daytime date destination, our local bookstore springs to mind as an excellent choice. In our case, our "local" store happens to be a Barnes and Noble since the nearest indie bookstore to our home is about twenty minutes away, and the Barnes and Noble is only five.

Because of its proximity, I find myself in the local Barnes and Noble quite frequently. It's one of the places I meet my fellow authors to "write in," it's where I meet my friends for coffee and conversation, and it's where my husband and I go when we want to get out of the house together, as we did today.

Today, I had an agenda for our date. You see, yesterday when I was at the Barnes and Noble, one of my favorite booksellers mentioned they were having a tough sales week, and tried to persuade me to purchase a Nook to boost sales. Would that I had the sort of funds available that I could just purchase a Nook, or even a book, on a whim, but I do not. I did, however, promise to come back today with my list of Books I Mean To Purchase Someday, and see which ones I could afford to purchase this week, instead of Someday.

Last night, I came home, checked the books I had in my online shopping carts for Barnes and Noble and Amazon, and compared prices between the two vendors. Oh how I wish I had money enough to skip the price comparison step when I shop for books, but I simply do not. To my dismay, the prices on Amazon were pretty much universally cheaper than the online prices from Barnes and Noble, which, in turn were cheaper than the prices of the books in the store.

Of course, as a price-comparing book shopper, I've run into this inevitable price difference in the past. I mean, it makes sense that an online entity that doesn't have to pay booksellers, rent, and cleaning bills can afford to give deeper discounts than our beloved brick-and-mortar stores. But moving beyond brick-and-mortar to an online-only world of booking-buying is a thought that brings tears to my eyes. Without bookstores, where would I write? Where would I meet my friends? Where would my husband and I go on lazy Saturday afternoons?

Still, I have financial obligations that make it impossible for me to pay more than I have to for books. Bookstores aren't charities, after all, they're out to turn a profit and they don't really care if I go broke trying to support them.

For these reasons, I'm willing to bend over backwards to buy books from local stores, but I'm not willing to pay more thanone dollar more for any given book. I buy a lot of books, and those dollars would add up fast!

In the past I have found that I can help out my local store without paying too much by going to the info desk and ordering my books to be shipped to my home. When I do that, I get the online price rather than the much higher in-store price. Then, when I use my member card for a 10% discount, and a coupon or two that I get by e-mail, I end up paying not too much more than I would if I purchased from Amazon. It's complicated but it's worth it to keep my local store in business.
But things, I am sorry to say, have changed.

It turns out that I can still order books shipped to home, and I can still get the online price in the store, but I can no longer use my member discount either there or online, and I can no longer use my emailed coupons for ship to home orders.
This last piece of news is particularly upsetting. Those coupons often make the difference between buying from B&N and buying from Amazon. Now, even though you can use a coupon code off of the discounted price online, or the printed coupon off of the full list price in the store, apparently you can't use either off of the discounted price for ship to home orders. This means that Barnes and Noble is basically telling me that instead of shopping in their stores, I should go home and order from their website which, by the way, is generally more expensive than Amazon! If I'm going to order online without the perks of a living, breathing bookstore, why would I pay even a penny more to give Barnes and Noble my money?

What a tradgedy!

Of my list of ten hardcover books, I was only able to justify buying two. Two! Two books are not going to make a dent in the store's weekly sales. Two books are not going to make the difference between keeping a bookseller on staff and laying someone off. Two books are not going to help at all. Add to that the fact that one of the two was only cheaper if I had it shipped to the store instead of to my home, which means that the boost in sales wouldn't even help them at all this week, the week when they especially need it.

What a disappointment.

So, my list of Books I Mean To Buy Someday isn't much shorter than it was this morning, but I'm not giving up. Perhaps someday Barnes and Noble will reinstate their ship to home member discount, or maybe an indie store will open nearby or maybe I'll get a big contract and have the luxury to shop without price comparisons. One can only hope.

In the meantime, I hope my local store can stay in business when its corporate online affiliate seems to be trying so hard to put them out of it.


  1. I agree that bookstores are a great place to hang out. If you read the dire predictions of some, not only bookstores, but books, are on the road to extinction. Let's hope such apocalyptic predictions are wrong.

  2. My sister and I cannot start our weekend without our B&N multigrain bagels and chai! And nothing soothes those frazzled ends better than a stroll through a bookstore.