Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader: Long Live the Bookstore!
You’ve probably noticed that your local mega bookstore is being significantly rearranged, sections swapping floors and corners. The toys and games section is expanding. It’s a shell game basically, designed to distract you from the fact that the inventory of your average bookstore is being significantly reduced. An earlier model is re-emerging and the name of the game is Waldenbooks. The e-reader isn’t killing the mega book store, as some alarmists have declared. It’s killed it. The corpse is still warm, that’s all.
I’m of two minds on this. On one hand, it’s hard to contemplate the idea of big bookstores abandoning the book trade without the image of Wile E. Coyote vigorously sawing through the tree branch he is perched on springing to mind. Yet one almost has to say good riddance. Not to the concept of the big bookstore itself and certainly not to the concept of physical books. But if the mega bookstore is deciding to voluntarily cede a large chunk of the physical book market, I certainly know some folks who can use it.
As the focus of your average Barnes & Noble shifts to music, movies (also shrinking), a café, toys, games, and of course e-readers, that leaves more of the book market for independent and secondhand book sellers—those who are unlikely to be able to launch nationwide e-reader campaigns. Independent booksellers can regain their edge simply by selling books.
What’s truly baffling to me are the reactions of some bookstore customers who act as if they have all the power of the average character in a Greek tragedy to change fate. To them I say “J’accuse!” If you want your average neighborhood big bookstore to stay open, there are two simple things you can do:
1. Buy books. It may sound obvious, but it’s true. Why are some people paralyzed by the e-reader? I’ve had to assure many a customer, “It’s not like we won’t let you buy books anymore!”
It’s no surprise that, say, the new Alexander McCall Smith (whose audience’s median age is approximately 87) sells more physical copies than e-books. But younger skewing titles like Dance With Dragons and Bossypants have also skewed more towards physical books, signifying that people are learning that not everything has to be an e-book.
Yet staggering numbers of people seem to be unable to make this distinction. I’ve listened to people sigh in resignation about buying an e-book as they literally stood in front of the physical book. We’re creatures of free will folks, use it. If you want a book, buy it.
2. Buy Gift Cards: Speaking of buying an e-book in the store, don’t do that. Unless you want to cause your bookseller no end of wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Now this one is not entirely the customer’s fault. After all, Barnes & Noble itself has ads boasting of 40,000 booksellers ready to help you and a vested interest in your coming into the store to use your Nook (and while you’re at it why not have a cup of coffee and pick up the new They Might Be Giants album).
Here’s the problem, if you’re coming in and buying a bunch of e-books, none of that money is actually making its way into the store coffers. It’s all actually going to barnesandnoble.com, from whom you’re technically buying the e-books. No one comes from corporate and pats a store on the head for having a bunch of books downloaded from the store’s IP address. If we’re not making numbers, we get closed down.
Luckily, there is a really easy way around this. Buy gift cards. Every store-based e-reader allows you to use them, and the money you spend on them goes to and stays directly in the store. What’s more, booksellers will be more than happy to add said gift card to your account directly in the store for added instant gratification. Trust me, some kid whose quota you just made with a hundred dollar gift card is going to be more than happy to open up the store’s web browser and load it up for you.
Bookselling is evolving and will keep changing with the market. Bookstores both independent and mega will find ways to survive. Personally, I’d like to see physical editions come packaged with digital editions. The way a special edition Blu-Ray will give you a copy for your iPod.
At the end of the day, the only true vote you get in the matter is the one you make with your dollars. Make sure that vote is saying what you want it to.
WHAT I READ THIS WEEK
HarperCollins, February 1999
A cool, clipped, sardonic story of a professional murderer. The books short segments, vignette based structure, and staccato prose made it the perfect book for the e-reader. Hard edged, with a bleak sense of humor, Hit Man will satisfy the most hardboiled of crime fans. Though novice hard cases might be surprised by what an easy fit it is.
Hit Man was a recent inReads Cult Beat selection, mostly due to title character Keller. He’s “just an ordinary, dreamy, not-that-bright guy who is good at his job and doesn’t lose too much sleep over it one way or the other. He’s mild mannered to the point of being milquetoast, ordinary to the point of being banal. And he kills an awful lot of people.”
The Killer Angels
Random House, August 1987
This book is a classic for a reason. A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel with influence running surprisingly wide and deep–it is, among other things, an acknowledged influence on Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe. The Killer Angels manages to do what great historical fiction is supposed to do: achieve the cliché of making history come to life by drawing its participants on both sides of the battle lines in nuanced dimensions not seen in classroom textbooks. Ironically, it takes a work of fiction to really drive home that taciturn and tortured James Longstreet, noble Joshua Chamberlin, and vainglorious George Pickett were real people. It manages to be sympathetic to the members of the Confederacy, yet unlike other more soft-headed pieces of historical fiction which unthinkingly romanticize them, it never allows you to forget that they were fighting and dying for one of the most unworthy causes in history.
Shaara writes with a merciless lucid clarity and an eye for telling detail. The battle sequences have a nightmarish intensity to them. It is not a requisite that you have any interest in the Civil War to read The Killer Angels. Only that you have some interest in the human condition.
MOVED BY WHAT YOU READ?
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