Archive for the ‘Independents’ Tag

Various articles and opinions

I have never known why time travel has held such an interest for me. I must have watched the Back to the Future trilogy over a hundred times. There was a time when I boasted that I could recite the movie by heart, and could answer any trivia about said trilogy. So I ran across this today: Charles Yu’s picks for the best time travel books, via the lovely Guardian. They are definitely worth a look.

Also, found on The Rumpus, is this article at the Telegraph about how to download e-books absolutely free. I think I talked about this in an earlier post. Back then, I cared about this job and it’s longevity, because it was in my self-interest to do so. Now, well. Let’s just say I have a more balanced view of e-books.

While I would never trade my physical books for e-books, an e-reader has an attractive and consolidated quality. Whenever I think of moving all my books, yet again, I suddenly get a desire to take a nap. I would do both, probably, if I had enough money for an iPad, which I don’t.

The main point that my bosses use in arguments against e-books, because they fancy themselves liberal and Marxist, is that e-readers are an example of conspicuous consumption, and that they alienate poor people making reading inaccessible to them. Anyone can buy a fourteen dollar paperback to. It’s literacy! It’s imaginative escape! It’s making you a citizen of the world! You could go to college! Oh wait, if your choices are between college and books, and you’re picking up the latest James Patterson instead, then your priorities are way off, mate.

Anyway, so let’s say you have access to these books, paperback, fifteen bucks for a trade size. The cheapest e-reader (and they’re going to get cheaper) is $150. That’s equivalent to 10 trade size paperback books. Now, if books are as easy to get as Adrian Hon says, then you pay $150 once and get thousands and thousands of books for free. Now, which is option is going to make you more literate?

I do realize that this argument leaves out some major points: like how are authors are supposed to make a living if their books are being distributed free on the interwebs; like how not shopping at your local independent business is bad for your economy; and how transferring every printed word into a data file lends itself to an inevitable apocalypse of Skynet proportions.

I do think that some authors may WAY too much money to begin with and could do with a little less. I also think that you can shop locally and online, you just don’t need to confess it to you local bookseller every time you log on to Amazon in an apologetic email. However, I do think we should watch the Terminator movies more carefully and learn something. James Cameron may be the prophet we didn’t know we had.

A couple of quick and odd stories

A customer calls, and I know who it was because of caller ID, and describes a card that he purchased here, in detail, and then asks me the most insane yet normal question. He says, “Inside the card is a little vellum sheet, should I write on that or on the cardstock?” At first, I want to say, “Is this the kind of thing you really can’t decide for yourself? It’s your card, write on it however you want! Crazy person!” Instead, I say, “Well sir, is the vellum sheet attached to the card?”. He responds that it is. So I tell him he should probably write on that. He says he’s glad he now knows how to “do it properly”. We hung up and I shook my head.

Another customer calls (on a different day) and asks me if we carry a monthly magazine that is all about small, die-cast collectible cars. First of all, weird. Second of all, how likely is it that a small bookstore would have something so specialized? Not very, not very. When I tell him that we don’t carry it, he asks me if I know anyone who does. I tell him no. Then, he asks me if I knew anyone who would know. I tell him that the larger bookstores might have some info. He doesn’t like that answer. So he asks me if there are any magazine stands around, referencing one about 30 miles away that has closed. I said I didn’t know of any others. He then tells me that’s disappointing, but it’s not clear if he means my lack of knowledge or that there aren’t any magazine/newsstands around. And what the hell kind of magazine stand propreitor would call a die-cast car magazine news??!!

I understand, to an extent, that bookstore employees may  have more general knowledge than someone say, in a clothing shop. But these requests are just odd. The first customer, wow. Just figure that one out on your own, buddy. The second, there’s this little invention, may or may not of heard of it, it’s the internet??? Yeah, probably find at least a phone number or something.

Other than that, here’s a quote from John Mortimer that I liked. It made me think about the advent of e-books and the difference between the written word and a data file.

‘Words are seen as unexploded mines, lying on deserted beaches,’ he wrote in a foreword to
Books in the Dock by C.H. Rolph, ‘which may be gingerly approached in the course of morning walks, cautiously examined, perhaps prodded with a stick; but ever likely to blow up in the faces of passers-by, destroying private property and changing the face of the landscape for generations to come.’

Though, I would like to see a Kindle blown up. What a great commercial for Apple. They could even use that lame sing-songy music in the background, and the stop-motion animation with a fuse being lit as the camera follows it up to the Kindle, blowing it up, and then it cuts to the Apple logo. Genius. Don’t steal it.

Some upcoming releases

In lieu of a review, because I haven’t finished anything recently. I’ll give you a preview of some of the good stuff coming out on Tuesday, 6 July.

Stephen King’s Under the Dome in paperback. Compared to his other behemoth The Stand, Under the Dome explores what happens to a small town in (you guessed it) Maine, when an impenetrable dome descends on the town. All the town’s secrets come seeping out, with no where to go.

Also by King, a 1oth anniversary re-release of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft in trade paperback, with a much classier cover and a classier size.

Also in paperback (I think it took two years), The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This one I read, and it was amazing. It’s a young adult novel with adult reader appeal. It takes place in the near future, the United States has been divided up into 12 districts. Every year, two people, one boy and one girl, are chosen from each district to compete in the Hunger Games and compete for money and prestige for their district. They compete in a televised and controlled arena, and it’s a fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen is chosen and she competes better than expected, despite her district’s lack of resources and poverty. Her character is very engaging and strong willed. It moves quickly and keeps the action up until the end. This is the first in the Hunger Games trilogy.

 I haven’t read The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn, though it is in my to-be-read pile. I read her earlier book, What Was Lost which was about a young girl, who had designs on becoming a detective, and when one “case” went very badly and she disappeared. She was never found. Thirty years later, a young woman working in a record shop sees something she thinks is a small girl on the security camera and she discovers a girl was lost at the mall, thirty years ago. It’s not really a ghost story, though the young girl’s “presence” is never really explained. More than this, though, What Was Lost is a meditation on the expansion of massive sprawling malls in the suburbs and how they have replaced small businesses. What her new one is about, I have no idea, but she’s an excellent writer.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

“We can buy it online for $15”: Or, Did the Old Couple Deserve it?

Here’s the scene. An old couple walks into the store and asks for the new Sarah Palin book. I calmly walk around the counter to the table where it’s displayed. The husband asks, “Is this the seven dollar price?”, I respond, “No, it’s $28.99.” He counters, “That’s for the shipping?”, I fire back, “No, it’s the publisher’s price.” He turns to his wife, who quietly (but not too quietly) tells him, “We can buy it for $15 dollars online.” He turns back to me and tells me “We can buy it online.” I want to say, “But if you bought it here, you would be supporting a local, independent business”, but I just say “Oookay.” Then he says, completely unnecessarily, “It’s cheaper”. Instead of saying, “Right, because online retailers devalue books so much that it creates assholes like you, who come into independents and act completely class-less and rude”, I say “Right,” and turn back to my computer. They look around for a while and then say, “We’ll see you next time.” To which I didn’t respond, “Yeah, because you really contributed to that.” 

So many things bother me about this conversation, but the first thought, the throbbing problem in my head is: do they deserve my anger? They are old, not 45, maybe 75 and maybe they don’t know better. Then again, maybe they do know better and don’t care. Whatever. I’m not concerened with motive here. I just didn’t feel like they deserved to be lectured on the importance of local economy, the many problems with shopping online,  and the egregious rudeness of telling an indie bookseller that they can buy it cheaper online. Perhaps it was because I thought it wouldn’t change their mind, they still wouldn’t buy the book and they probably would never return, having been yelled at. Maybe they’ll buy a book some other time. That’s the forgiving side of my thoughts.

The other side is full of red rage and anger. How dare they come in here and tell me that it’s cheaper online, as though I’m not aware of it. And to tell me they’ll see me next time, well they may not. Because they would rather buy their crappy Palin book online, they are taking away money from their local economy and if more people gain that attitude, you won’t see me next time, because we’ll be out of business.

Momentary tangent: How is it that people who “go green” by not using plastic bags or bringing reusable ones think they are changing the planet through their own individual actions do not apply the same logical process to where they spend their money? It is the perspective that one’s individual choices and actions can greatly impact a social, environmental, whatever-al change. But they don’t apply it to local economies, why?

All this bothers me, puts me in an irascible mood and I become more prone to be critical towards other customer’s comments and actions. Not good for the friendly bookseller persona.* A facet of my profession I’m not cultivating very well anyway. Grr.

*I promise that the next blog post will be a review. I have done a lot of ranting lately, and I’m tired of it. However, I have recently finished a couple of books that I want to review here, so they are in the works. Mostly, I was responding to biblioklept’s insinuation that I don’t keep up my blog that much and  only had “recent(ish)” posts. Thus, I have blogged more and are now recent without the -ish. Also, thanks to biblioklept for the kind write-up and to The Hannibal Blog  for linking to my review of Wolf Hall, even if we did not agree.

Sexism and Bookselling, with a post script on phone requests

Yesterday I was sitting behind the desk doing the mysterious things booksellers do behind desks and a man walks in. He is a reader. You can tell because he immediately engaged another employee in conversation and had a peculiar request. He wanted historical fiction that gave one a perspective that one hadn’t thought of before. So the (female) employee proceeds to tell him about 5 or 6 books, in-depth accounts of what the book is about and how it meets his requirements. He doesn’t go for them. She asks me, (I’m a woman), I give him a good, detailed description of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (a review I’ll get to eventually). Nope. He didn’t want that either. The other employee takes him to another shelf and tells the customer that her husband read it and liked it. He buys that one.

Really? Really. After spending probably fifteen minutes with this man giving him detailed descriptions of books, he goes with the one a man picked, without even knowing what it was about. It was not as if the other books chose were “woman” books, they were all about war and adventure and man-stuff. He just wanted to read what a man read. Plain and simple.

Now, how am I supposed to sell to that kind of person? I promise you it is a type of person. Should I just say, “(male name) liked this one a lot” and not even give my opinion or any kind of sales pitch? How do you “learn” to sell to those kinds of customers? I cannot unmake my gender and because I cannot, I cannot sell to certain people (at least I can’t sell anything I care about).

Another question. Is it his fault? Do I blame him or blame the common wisdom that most readers are women and that women don’t read the same books or the same way as men do? Ultimately, he bought a book so I shouldn’t be upset. But how can I learn from that experience, could I have done something that would have changed it? I doubt it. And to save the ruminating, Reader, I blame him.  To be honest, an encounter like that just reinforces my misanthropy, especially those afflicted with gender myopia.

The other strange thing that happened was this: a woman calls asking if we are the college bookstore, I say no, she says oh and hangs up. She calls back and asks me for the number to the college bookstore which I say I don’t have. She then asks. me. to. look. it. up. for.  her. And of course, I do. But I was just flabbergasted. Who does that? Who asks someone to look up a number for them?

Another phone conversation, though not really a request but an extravagant example of the asshole sub-species. I’ll skip to the end. He says “I don’t mean to complain but everytime I call y’all, you never have what I want and I have to drive all the way to the other end of town”. I tell him that we have a quick distribution system to make up for any lack of books we have and can get books in a couple of days. He responds “So can Amazon, thank you, bye”. All I could say was “Yeah,” in the bitchiest tone I could muster. I wanted to say “Thanks for supporting your local economy, but don’t wonder when the roads are fucked and there’s no one to pick up the trash.” Or more succinctly, “Fuck you, you fucking fuck.”

It’s one thing to go to another bookstore or order your books online; but it is quite another to tell an employee of an independent that they don’t have the book and that Amazon is better than they are. That’s just plain rude and a bad example of a human being. But this is what passes for humanity in the cutthroat bookselling business. I swear, indie booksellers have to go out with switchblades up our sleeves for protection against attackers who want to deep discount books.

On Returning a Book to Your Local Independent Bookstore

About two hours ago, a woman, her husband, and her daughter (the only one of the trio who lives locally) came in and bought two very commercially available books, Dan Brown’s new crap-ton of bad writing tome The Lost Symbol and Mitch Albom’s self-help is still hip Have a Little Faith. When she was standing at the counter, she shared with me the fact that she could get these books cheaper and that someone named Alice would send her the book in the mail. She waivered, she wafted, she flitted and scrunched up her brow, and slapped the money on the counter. I was proud of her, she realized the importance of supporting a locally-owned business (even if it wasn’t hers and was her daughters’s community). I almost snapped at her husband when he said, “this sale must make your bookstore day” to me. I thought, yeah, you and all the other sales today. Jerk. But hey, mission accomplished, they bought the books.

Wrong. She brought them back, asking for a refund because she could get them 50% cheaper somewhere else.  I wanted to tell her she could go on Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Target.com, Sears.com, etc. etc. and get it for $8.98, but then she would have no soul. After all that worrying, hemming and hawing, she brought them back. I was really disappointed.

Two ideas spawned from this encounter. One, how do you explain the advantages of spending money in a local community when the customer doesn’t live in the community? They don’t benefit in any way from money kept in the local economy. They’re on vacay, and it’s all on a budget. This is one I’ve been working my head round for a while, since 40% of our customers are tourists. I’ve still yet to have an answer. Though, it may be related to my second idea.

Two,  there has been a price war between the major online retailers to discount the most popular books coming out this holiday season (it has even been covered on NPR).  James Patterson, Barbara Kingsolver, et al are watching as the prices of their books drop to below $10, some places as low as $8.98. Many analysts are saying that this will have a direct effect on independents and that independents will not be able to compete with these deep discounts. Yesterday, on NPR, an analyst made the point that if deep discounting becomes the norm, the value of books will go down, and independents will go out of business and we will see more of what happened today with my lovely little out-of-towners.

It is true that books are costing more these days. Even a few months ago, a hardcover book was anywhere from $22.99 to $24.99, maybe $26.99 if it was a biggie. Now, they are $26.99 to $29.99, and $32.99 for a biggie. Where did this come from? It came from the large chains (Barnes and Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million) who need to deep discount in order to stay competitive. However, they can’t make any money off $23-24 books so they negotiate with publishers to have a higher price and they still offer 40% discounts. Most people don’t pay attention to how much they’re paying if they’re getting a discount. So, you have bookstore chains driving up the actual price of the book and online retailers discounting the books until they’re cheaper than what it cost to make them. And then you have the independents, riding the wake between the huge barge out on the water and crashing on the beach, trying to stay afloat.

If publishers lose money, they will publish less authors. (It is already to the point that most publishers don’t take chances on new authors.) If there are less authors then there are fewer books, fewer books, less dissemination of knowledge, and eventually the extinction of printed books. I know this is a fatalist view and a little extreme, but things could change very radically while we’re all on Amazon searching for a good deal.

However, as I said before it’s not only the consumers who are to blame. The chains and discount stores made buying cheap the norm and now it is expected and in fact, engineered. To the chain bookstores, who have large web presences as well as brick and mortar stores, it doesn’t matter if a customer buys a printed book or an e-book anymore. They don’t need to drive people to their stores, they only need the sale.

We are in quite a conundrum here. It is so much more complicated than telling people “buying local helps support the local economy”. Because they may not live in this local economy, and if they buy all their products online or at other chains, what do they care if a locally-owned independent goes out of business? They buy all their things from faceless chains and discount stores.

So what do we do? We do smile, we don’t say “sure, no problem” when they bring it back. We look at them in the face, conveying the message, “I am judging you for your bad decision.” But we can’t say anything without offending someone, because as you have seen, the truth is offensive.