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The Bookstore Strikes Back
February 6, 2013 4:24 AM   Subscribe

Ann Patchett opened a new independent bookstore in Nashville, despite being told that books are dead.
posted by reenum (93 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
If books are dead, how come they smell so good?
posted by louche mustachio at 4:31 AM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


On books and their future, Paul Ford put it rather nicely.
posted by Wordshore at 4:40 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


As much as I love and prefer books, I still think bookstores are dead and that that's not a bad thing. Libraries have so much more and for such a better deal. Not just financially, but also socially and culturally. Not only do I save money, but I can share books easily with an entire community and have those books curated, in every sense of the word, by professionals who care mostly about books and don't need to make a profit.
posted by DU at 4:52 AM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Book is not dead, it is merely being edited.
posted by KingEdRa at 4:58 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wish her well, but isn't it a bit early to start celebrating the success of this business?

On a different note, Louise Erdrich and Garison Keillor both own bookstores in the Twin Cities. Maybe the important fact is that bookstores can make a profit, but not as much as most investors would like. So, they need owners who love books and can afford to invest some capital in a business that won't have great returns.
posted by Area Man at 4:58 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Opening an independent bookstore is on my wife and me's Lottery Fantasy List*. Reading the article, I'm not sure Parnassus Books is that far away being our fantasy made flesh. Replace our willingness to throw imaginary millions down a hole with the confluence of an affluent author teaming up with two industry veterans, then top the whole thing with fortuitous advertising on Colbert.

The three primaries at Parnassus have put a lot into the store, but I'm not sure they put everything into it like many small business owners do for their shops. The examples of closed bookstores they give have the common theme of being 'profitable, but not profitable enough' to keep going. This means the stores could be running in the black, but the owners are taking home all of a dollar a month to live on. We had a bookstore in town that was like that, but the owners had other careers (and so when they tried to sell the business upon retiring/moving, there were no buyers). If this was the case for Parnassus, then the owners probably wouldn't mind - they appear to have other sources of income.

In my mind, more bookstores are always a Good Thing, but I admit being slightly uncomfortable that the only way to get more indie stores is to hope for the successful/lucky to take on the role of expensive hobbyist. That means there are not enough book buyers to let stores really thrive.

Still, c'mon Powerball!

* - The store, based in Salem, Mass would be called "The Corey Press." I'd like it to have an Espresso Book Machine and my wife would like it to have a cupcake counter and since it's a lotto fancy anyways, let's add in a full bar and performance seating.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:03 AM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Libraries have so much more and for such a better deal.

Plus, you get the free bed bugs!

(I love bookstores, and frequent several second hand stores regularly, but for new books? Forget that).
posted by Mezentian at 5:08 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seconding Mezenian. No libraries ever, ever again. Never ever ever. Yuck.
posted by Yowser at 5:11 AM on February 6, 2013


This is the fabulous independent bookstore near me. It's been around forever, but it's like Parnassus Book in the sense of having an owner with deep ties to the community and tons of connections. (And very wealthy people living nearby who will consciously bypass Amazon to support it.) I would like to think more places like this will spring up when the big-box places are gone, but it seems unlikely. Few have the resources.

One of the things that's almost certainly dead is the kind of literary career Patchett herself has had. She has a chapter in Why We Write where she talks about how her career evolved and how she is one of the last to be able to progress that way.
posted by BibiRose at 5:15 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


robocop is bleeding, my wife and I agree: we planned to have movable stacks so the books can be wheeled out of the way to create a studio performance space.

There will still be book stores, like there is still theatre in every small town: but instead of being commercial it'll be volunteer and non-profit. Retired people and community activity. In the UK these are run by charities, and it has come to pass.
posted by alasdair at 5:17 AM on February 6, 2013


Not only do I save money, but I can share books easily with an entire community and have those books curated, in every sense of the word, by professionals who care mostly about books and don't need to make a profit.

Former bookstore manager, now librarian here. Bookstores* and libraries, especially public libraries, serve different needs. The independent bookstore has more of an ability to develop to serve the interests of niche markets more than a library can, since a library has to touch the main interests of its patrons rather than the depth of need of any given patron. Additionally, for many patrons, checking out a book on a "questionable" topic is very different from just buying one, since the bookseller has a financial interest in not caring what you buy from the stock -- that bookseller wants you to return and buy more.

Anyway, I think there is conceptual room for both bookstores and libraries. I am not sure that there is economic room for either in the United States....

*I am mostly talking about independent stores here, both genre-specific and general. The large box bookstores which killed the independents in the 90s and are dying themselves? Yeah, they are easy to replace because they are incapable of offering the level of service.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:20 AM on February 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is the second time I've seen bedbugs and libraries linked together. Don't know when this started, but I sure hope it ends because if some weirdo problem like that kills libraries I'll be pretty angry.

The independent bookstore has more of an ability to develop to serve the interests of niche markets more than a library can, since a library has to touch the main interests of its patrons rather than the depth of need of any given patron. Additionally, for many patrons, checking out a book on a "questionable" topic is very different from just buying one, since the bookseller has a financial interest in not caring what you buy from the stock -- that bookseller wants you to return and buy more.

Huh, I always think of both issues going the other way. Bookstores have to make money, so they stock the stuff that'll bring in crowds and can and do bulk buy super popular titles and trends. Libraries can accumulate over time and don't care so much about high sellers vs niche interest. If anything, they'd prefer to have everyone get a different book so they need only one of each. That encourages diversification. Have you ever tried looking for, to pick a topic at random, manual drafting books at a bookstore vs a library? The former can't be found, the latter isn't too hard.

As for questionable content: I'd rather borrow that kind of thing "because I'm curious" rather than buy it and show more serious intent by putting my money where my eyeballs are. Plus libraries have a *professional* disinterest vs a financial one that may suddenly go the other way (Amazon, I'm looking at you).
posted by DU at 5:33 AM on February 6, 2013


I think that's a rather naive view of libraries, especially in this era of depression caused budget cuts and ideologically driven closings. Your average library, just like your average bookstore does need to have "bestsellers" to justify its existence, has a limited budget for new books and maintainance both and is likely to strip out dead stock as ruthless as any chain bookstore ever did: if it isn't lend, it's not kept.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:36 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I believe the quote is, "Print is dead."
posted by Chrysostom at 5:38 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


In general I think it's far too early to say that either the book or bookstores are dead, though it is obvious that after music and movies, books are the next medium to be swallowed by the internet.

For many people ebooks, like mp3s before, are just that much more useable than physical books are and I could see a future where the latter filll the same sort of niche as vinyl does now, as a product for serious readers/collectors, but no longer a mass market product.

On the other hand, for the moment there's still a lot of inertia build into the reading market and I can see consumption switching only slowly from physical to ebooks, with independent, craft bookstores like the one Ann Patchett funded, being in a good place to survive.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:41 AM on February 6, 2013


Your average library, just like your average bookstore does need to have "bestsellers" to justify its existence, has a limited budget for new books and maintainance both and is likely to strip out dead stock as ruthless as any chain bookstore ever did: if it isn't lend, it's not kept.

I agree with every part of this except the "as ruthless as any chain bookstore". Even my small town, small budget library has a much, MUCH wider selection than I can find even on B&N's website, let alone in their physical stores. Partly for the reasons given above and partly because of, again, the social nature: I can do ILL from the library whereas a B&N bookstore clerk isn't going to run across the street and buy the book for me from an independent store.

But I think the philosophical point remains: If we ever exit this period of "low public investment is the best thing EVAR!" idiocy period, libraries can get better while bookstores will still be profit/trend-driven.
posted by DU at 5:42 AM on February 6, 2013


Libraries have so much more and for such a better deal.

Sure. As long as your community has a well-stocked library. Or a library at all.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:43 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


* - The store, based in Salem, Mass would be called "The Corey Press." I'd like it to have an Espresso Book Machine and my wife would like it to have a cupcake counter and since it's a lotto fancy anyways, let's add in a full bar and performance seating.

My own is going to be on a boat. Basically, I'd like to recreate this, and on the spring and summer weekends I'll drop anchor over by Governors' Island; the rest of the time I'll be along the Gowanus Canal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:44 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, even small public libraries have the built in support network of interlibrary loan to help patch up collections winnowed by budget cuts. You want a book that they don't have? Okay, they can get it for you.

Indie bookstores don't have a similar network. Or at least they don't have exclusive access to a similar network. You want a book they don't have? Okay, they can get it for you... or you can go on Amazon and get it yourself, usually for less and usually faster.

This is why I'd want my fantastical indie shop to have an on demand bookprinting device. I know it wouldn't be able to spit out an out of stock bestseller (yet!), but it would bring something special to the store that can't be easily replicated online. Combine that with a discount to a local restaurant or something, and you have the roots of a community based shop - "Your book should be ready in an hour. Do you want a coupon for local restaurant X, Y, or Z or a discount on tourist attraction A, B, or C?"
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:49 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bookstores are not dead; they are simply very, very expensive hobbies.

Having said that, there is an entirely mediocre bookstore in my mother's town that continues to do well by intimately knowing their niche of mightily stressed out, moderately bored, completely white, totally affluent, borderline Republican readers. They don't do displays for the TBR or NYT best-sellers; they do rounds for Oprah's book club. 50 Shades was a banner month for that store.

The owners know nothing about literature or authors or any vein of literary history. The place is practically an intellectual sinkhole in the middle of town. If you ring them to ask if they have Volume 3 of The Letters of T. S. Eliot, they will ask you to spell "Eliot" and then tell you that they do not. But they'll cheerfully order it for you, along with anything else, and given the shrinking numbers of independent booksellers, it's hard not to be congratulatory that they're serving their market at a profit.

By the way, if you're interested in the future of bookselling, I heartily recommend the novel The Last Bookstore in America, which is wonderful and wickedly funny, and (of course) only available on the Kindle.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:52 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm going to speak up in favor of those horrible chain bookstores. When I was looking for both volumes of Emma Goldman's memoirs in the mid 90s, I couldn't find copies at the local independent bookstores (even the legendary Hungry Mind) or even the feminist bookstore (the non-internet Amazon). The clerks at those places treated me like crap when I asked for help and didn't offer to order it for me. Barnes & Noble had both volumes and the clerks were friendly, helpful, and interested in the book. Everyone gets misty-eyed today about the lost independent bookstores, but there are reasons why the chains were able to move in and destroy them and it wasn't just discounted bestsellers. Often, the selection and service was an improvement.
posted by Area Man at 6:00 AM on February 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


Libraries can accumulate over time and don't care so much about high sellers vs niche interest.

This is sad, but my university library just sent around a list of books that haven't circulated in the last decade. They call it a "Weeding List." It's massive. Each department is supposed to pick a few "seminal works" to be saved despite their unpopularity, and so we're all combing through this massive list trying to decide what's "worth" saving. I'm depressed just thinking about it, about what it means for books, for my students, for my university.

I'm going to go read a book.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:24 AM on February 6, 2013


On the bed bug "issue" in public libraries, this article has some interesting background on information dissemination in New York.
posted by Wordshore at 6:27 AM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Huh, I always think of both issues going the other way. Bookstores have to make money, so they stock the stuff that'll bring in crowds and can and do bulk buy super popular titles and trends. Libraries can accumulate over time and don't care so much about high sellers vs niche interest. If anything, they'd prefer to have everyone get a different book so they need only one of each. That encourages diversification. Have you ever tried looking for, to pick a topic at random, manual drafting books at a bookstore vs a library? The former can't be found, the latter isn't too hard.

As for questionable content: I'd rather borrow that kind of thing "because I'm curious" rather than buy it and show more serious intent by putting my money where my eyeballs are. Plus libraries have a *professional* disinterest vs a financial one that may suddenly go the other way (Amazon, I'm looking at you).


The thing is, an independent bookstore builds its clientele. That affects what they carry. When I ran my store, we catered to a whole range of niche markets because I would get a few books on the topic, if they sold I would get more, I would hear customer recommendations and get them, and slowly build up a market for that subject. It's hard to do that in a library. Now, for something very technical, like manual drafting, I would be looking for a very specific sort of book store (or, perhaps, as you say, a library). On the other hand, if you were trying to get Aporia Press ranter literature pamphlets from a US public library during the 80s, well, I hope you had good luck....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:34 AM on February 6, 2013


Argh, sorry, hit post before answering the second part. All I can say is, based on observed customer behavior, there are a lot of subjects (GLBT stuff, eg) that people are more comfortable buying than letting a librarian see. If for not other reason that, if you pay in cash, there is very little to connect the purchaser to he book, so people felt safer. Obviously, the tone of the store makes a big difference.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:38 AM on February 6, 2013


Bookstores have to make money, so they stock the stuff that'll bring in crowds and can and do bulk buy super popular titles and trends. Libraries can accumulate over time and don't care so much about high sellers vs niche interest.

Maybe your experiences with libraries have been unusually happy, or maybe you haven't been in a library for a while, but this has not been my experience with libraries, especially public libraries.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:40 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The clerks at those places treated me like crap when I asked for help and didn't offer to order it for me.

That's just bad service (I have heard a lot of people complain about service at Amazon; I think service came in waves in that store). I can't guarantee hat my store could have gotten it for you, but we would have tried and been reasonably nice about it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on February 6, 2013


As much as I love and prefer books, I still think bookstores are dead and that that's not a bad thing. Libraries have so much more and for such a better deal. Not just financially, but also socially and culturally. Not only do I save money, but I can share books easily with an entire community and have those books curated, in every sense of the word, by professionals who care mostly about books and don't need to make a profit.

Where to start with this? Plenty of crap libraries out there for one thing, and interlibrary loan is not always a given, much less always "free". And just ask a librarian how much leeway there is in "curating" a collection when the library patrons mostly want is the next James Patterson. Even if profit is not a factor, budget sure as hell is, and cranky taxpayers don't necessarily go for a whole lot of that niche stuff.

On preview, plus what GenjiandProust said
posted by IndigoJones at 6:44 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seconding Mezenian. No libraries ever, ever again. Never ever ever. Yuck.

A derail, but for Christ's sake:

1) This hasn't been widely, reliably reported as a problem outside of NYC - I live in a city with a not insignificant bedbug problem (DC), for example, and have it from friends working for our public library that they haven't yet seen any evidence of infestation in their branches.

2) IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO SEE IF THERE ARE BEDBUGS IN A BOOK - here's how to do it: Open the book completely on a flat surface and page quickly through it, looking where the pages meet the spine, and along their edges. Infested books typically will have either adult bedbugs, nymphs, or bug droppings, often together - look for anything that looks like this.*

3) Swear off of libraries and you might as well forgo the subway, buses, restaurants - all public places, really.

This problem has been wildly exaggerated, especially by the NYT.

Anecdata: I worked as a book buyer for years, and regularly bought libraries from squalid, disgusting houses - I routinely looked for roaches and bedbugs in books and only once found evidence of the latter.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:45 AM on February 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah, even small public libraries have the built in support network of interlibrary loan to help patch up collections winnowed by budget cuts.

ILL is a great thing, where it's available and not discouraged. When I lived in New England, getting books via ILL was a standard thing; when you searched the catalog it would tell you (if the local library didn't have an item) where else it was and let you set up an ILL right there. Intrastate ILLs in Connecticut were like 1 or 2 days lead time at most IIRC. There's some fairly significant logistics that go on the backend to make that possible, presumably.

But down in VA where I am now, they charge you something like $3-5 per item for ILL, and it can take 3-6 weeks to process. It is just Not Done by regular folks, except for very esoteric stuff or research materials; most of my friends had never done it, and were only aware of it in the sense that, yeah, it's something that you could do, but nobody ever does.

That strikes me as such a waste, because ILL makes so much sense. Once you get past new material / pop stuff, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for my county's libraries to have a collection that more or less exactly duplicates the next county's collection, and yet without a good ILL system that's exactly what necessarily ends up happening, minus a few oddities here and there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:59 AM on February 6, 2013


Area Man, you are right, even Soulless Chain Bookstores, unless they had horrible service, often brought a wider selection of books to a place than it had before. Before Borders and B&N, my hometown suburb was a bleak place with one Christian bookstore for all your chaste-pioneer-romance needs, and a teeeeny BookStop that had bestsellers, calendars, and not much else. Oh and a tiny, dark, used bookstore where people sold their non-chaste, non-pioneer romances, and not much else.

For a while, we were swamped with riches; Borders, B&N, and Half-Price. You could buy books (and magazines! I had no idea there were so many magazines) you never knew existed, you could browse for hours. And then have a muffin.

And now they're all suffering or gone thanks to online ordering, and books are becoming niche items. It's becoming more common, not less, for people to exclaim over my relatively modest 5 bookcases-worth of paper books. :(

But I like ebooks. I read on the internet all the time. I appreciate the idea of killing fewer trees. I just miss the store part, the anticipation and the excitement of the hunt.
posted by emjaybee at 7:05 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the 1990s, one often got good customer service out of chain bookstores, before the economy started turning. Walk into a B&N now, and you'll find a large amount of space given over to either Nooks or educational toys and modern board games. And Lego sets.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:13 AM on February 6, 2013


Metafilter has soured on public libraries? The days have truly gone down in the west.
posted by General Tonic at 7:15 AM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nice of them to allow patrons to windowshop and browse before ordering the books online at a better cost. Good luck to them.
posted by Renoroc at 7:25 AM on February 6, 2013


This is the second time I've seen bedbugs and libraries linked together. Don't know when this started,

I think I have seen this via Metafilter, cf New York Times? American publications only.
Really, I'd never give it a second thought.
I like to keep books, though.
posted by Mezentian at 7:31 AM on February 6, 2013


Nice of them to allow patrons to windowshop and browse before ordering the books online at a better cost.

My local bookstore has books I can't find online, or can't find online any more cheaply. But I guess if you aren't much of a reader, online is sufficient to your needs.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:37 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope bookstores survive, even if they do end up filling more of a big city boutique sort of specialty niche. Sparing trees is generally a good thing, but there are renewable ways to farm trees. And if Earth ever gets hit by a gigantic EM pulse again, like it did during the 1859 Carrington Event, we might not be able to rely on magnetic storage media to preserve the accumulated wisdom of the ages for us (or to preserve the various instruction manuals we'll need to get all our electronic content systems up and running again).

But I like ebooks. I read on the internet all the time. I appreciate the idea of killing fewer trees. I just miss the store part, the anticipation and the excitement of the hunt.

Poetry may have trouble adapting if eBooks become the norm. Flow documents and fluid, proportional layout techniques don't respect the integrity of line-breaks (as I realized when I bought Best American Poetry one year for the Kindle my wife bought me and it was all but unreadable). Whitman's stuff, for example, probably wouldn't fit in most eReaders without shrinking the font size down so much you'd get readability issues. There's some research being done into this problem apparently, but I'm not optimistic. The problem is that, with books, you can change the size of the printed page to address readability issues while maintaining fixed line-lengths. But with an eReader, you can't really dial up the screen size on a case-by-case basis. Side scrolling is one alternative solution, but ugh... But then, who needs poetry anymore, amirite?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:37 AM on February 6, 2013


(But then I guess what I'm really saying is I hope physical books and poetry survive, not necessarily bookstores.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 AM on February 6, 2013


But down in VA where I am now, they charge you something like $3-5 per item for ILL, and it can take 3-6 weeks to process. It is just Not Done by regular folks, except for very esoteric stuff or research materials; most of my friends had never done it, and were only aware of it in the sense that, yeah, it's something that you could do, but nobody ever does.

Yeah, ILL support at the public level is kind of hit-or-miss. I think PA has a fantastic state delivery system, and I know I'm proud to help share our collection with public libraries across the state, but a lot of money and effort went into developing that kind of public library/academic library partnership in the past. Frankly, it's really expensive if you can't do bulk shipments between libraries; even at library rate, each book will run $2+ in postage, plus staff time and materials and whatnot. And interestingly, OCLC is rolling out a new ILL system that will include links to vendors like Amazon, in case a library decides to just buy it instead of requesting it and borrowing it.

It's also worth pointing out that libraries buy books from small bookstores too, though thankfully many of the niche folks have thriving online sales, especially for foreign titles. I'm in favor of anything that gets people reading and gets books out there.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:51 AM on February 6, 2013


My local bookstore has books I can't find online, or can't find online any more cheaply. But I guess if you aren't much of a reader, online is sufficient to your needs.

What? A person could live their entire life reading an insane amount without ever reading anything unavailable on the internet. Apparently there are approximately 800,000 books that are available just from Amazon, just for the Kindle. That translates to over 10,000 books a year over the lifetime of a person whose sole source of books was the Amazon kindle store. I would hardly call that person "not much of a reader."

There are probably a small number of books that are unavailable online, but that you could find in a local bookstore. That number pales in comparison to the number of books available online that you can't find in most local bookstores.

I also think that this conversation was doing really well without the bragging about how much people read that poisons so many Metafilter discussions about books.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:04 AM on February 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


My bookstore will be in a lighthouse on a craggy part of the Maine coast. Full of cats.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:25 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread should be about how small rebel holdouts like this are heroes holding the line of freedom from the dark forces of tyranny spreading through the galaxy.
posted by stbalbach at 8:27 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread should be about how small rebel holdouts like this are heroes holding the line of freedom from the dark forces of tyranny spreading through the galaxy.

That needed to be said? I thought it was obvious.
posted by bongo_x at 8:33 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


My local bookstore has books I can't find online, or can't find online any more cheaply. But I guess if you aren't much of a reader, online is sufficient to your needs.

I've been to Parnassus a few times and their selection is not even really close to Books-A-Million or Barnes and Noble levels, never mind the long tail available on the internet. If you're looking for something that's not recent or a classic you're likely out of luck. Obviously that's necessary for them as a small operation with limited space but to me at least they don't offer much value beyond "locally owned".

The claim in the "books are dead" link that Nashville lost all of it's in-town bookstores isn't really true. There's a Books-A-Million within city limits. It's in suburbia but Parnassus is too, just an older and richer suburb. The large Borders bookstore that closed quickly re-opened as Vanderbilt's campus bookstore, run by Barnes and Noble, so it's functionally a Barnes and Noble that sells college sweatshirts, and is easily the most-central bookstore in town.

It's cool that Patchett has been able to make a store work but I'm kind of bewildered by the gushing attention it's getting since "rich celebrity vanity projects" doesn't seem like a promising plan to save the industry.
posted by ghharr at 8:46 AM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also I should mention that my local used bookstore in Nashville, Bookman/Bookwoman, is awesome.
posted by ghharr at 8:48 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wish her well, but isn't it a bit early to start celebrating the success of this business?

Actually, the store opened in 2011. I keep meaning to go everytime I'm in Nashville, but haven't worked it in.
posted by kimdog at 8:50 AM on February 6, 2013




What? A person could live their entire life reading an insane amount without ever reading anything unavailable on the internet. Apparently there are approximately 800,000 books that are available just from Amazon, just for the Kindle. That translates to over 10,000 books a year over the lifetime of a person whose sole source of books was the Amazon kindle store. I would hardly call that person "not much of a reader."

There are probably a small number of books that are unavailable online, but that you could find in a local bookstore. That number pales in comparison to the number of books available online that you can't find in most local bookstores.

I also think that this conversation was doing really well without the bragging about how much people read that poisons so many Metafilter discussions about books.


I agree. It really not so much about how much you read but what you like to read. In my small town the only place to buy books is a Christian book store and a small rack at the local drug store. No idea what the Christian store sells but the drug store has books that are written by local authors and books from a couple of local independent presses. It also has some history books with local appeal. Most of their selection can't be bought online very easily.

A bit of a further drive in a smallish city their is a smaller independent bookstore that carries a lot of the same types of books. Local works, works from smaller presses and a lot of independently produced books that are difficult to find in other venues. Great if you like reading from that realm. There's more then enough to keep you busy for years.

The library system where I am is good as well. It has a solid ILL system and a decent size collection as far as libraries go. I regularly has bestseller fiction as well as bestseller non-fiction. However there are a couple of subjects that I like which no local bookstore carries, chain stores seem to have limited in store stock and in libraries is non-existent. Online is the source for that area.

A person could also keep themselves in books and read for decades just from the selection of totally free digital books both fiction and non-fiction. There are thousands of books now in the digital commons. If I wanted to just read well known classics, more obscure old fiction and everything in between I would probably never have buy a book for over a decade. Heck maybe even for the rest of my life as more and more become available.

So yeah it's more about what you like reading rather then how much you read.
posted by Jalliah at 8:52 AM on February 6, 2013


Apparently there are approximately 800,000 books that are available just from Amazon, just for the Kindle.

Now remove all the self published, unreadable vanity projects, the scammy "reprints" of Wikipedia pages, the 20-odd different editions of the same 10-15 out of print classic novels, all the "Christian" books undsoweiter and how much worthwhile books are you left with?

Then take into consideration everything that's not online yet, having been published long enough before ebooks became routine and not thought worthwhile enough by the publisher to bring out a new edition, etc and you got a hell of a lot of books not available if you limit yourself to ebooks.

It's like limiting yourself to only library books: no matter how well stocked they are, they don't stock everything and quite often have similar systemic biases.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:08 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a Bookophile. Libraries and bookstores are where I go to get my kicks and pet all the books. I love both places equally, and I selfishly hope the rich bookstore-owning hobbyists keep fighting the good fight.
posted by book 'em dano at 9:08 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's like limiting yourself to only library books: no matter how well stocked they are, they don't stock everything and quite often have similar systemic biases.

Yeah it would be absolutely absurd, that was part of my point. You can read basically forever from online resources even imposing completely absurd restrictions. My point was that saying that online resources are only acceptable "if you're not much of a reader" is quite possibly the silliest argument possible for local bookstores. I can buy (either e-book or print from Amazon) enough books to last my entire lifetime reading a great deal without ever even reading a bad book, to say nothing of running out.

There are a lot of good arguments for local book stores but "Amazon just doesn't offer enough books for serious readers" is definitely not one of them.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:14 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


A person could live their entire life reading an insane amount without ever reading anything unavailable on the internet. Apparently there are approximately 800,000 books that are available just from Amazon, just for the Kindle.

Those aren't the books I'm looking for.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:16 AM on February 6, 2013


I had to give an Ignite presentation to my publishing colleagues about the future of "book places" which you can watch here.

There's a store in Berkeley California called University Press Books that's actually trying some of what I've suggested. We're even trying to figure out a way to integrate the sale of DRM free e-books using the Kobo platform. There was also a grant written by some folks in Detroit to try and get one started there. I haven't heard if they were awarded the grant but I hope they do. The basic idea is to merge the services of a library and a bookstore, creating a cooperative were members can borrow for free, but could also purchase books.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:18 AM on February 6, 2013


Then your argument is "Amazon doesn't have the books I want" (which is a fine and legitimate argument), but unless "much of a reader" means "likes the same books as octobersurprise" then saying "I guess if you aren't much of a reader, online is sufficient to your needs" is still silly.

One argument for local bookstores is that they serve niches for rare or out of print books that aren't available online, but the idea that online purchasing can't meet the needs of most readers including people who read a great deal is flat out wrong.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:21 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK Mr. Bezos, we get your point.
posted by bongo_x at 9:31 AM on February 6, 2013


I've read about bedbugs in books, but I've also read about roaches in packaging, so your book delivered from an online bookseller may have more than you bargained for. I'm not phobic about used books, and many of my books are pre-owned. I like the character of old books.

When I shop Amazon, I get suggestions for what Amazon wants me to buy, some based on what everybody's reading, some based on Amazon's sales algorithm. When I shop a good bookstore, I get recommendations from a person who reads a lot, and spends a lot of time talking to readers. I also have the pleasure of just browsing, which no online shopping experience has yet replicated. I recently visited Everyone's Books in Brattleboro, Vt. The selection is expansive; whoever does the ordering has interesting taste. I was delighted to spend some money, bringing home a mix of books. When we were checking out, I realized it was after the store's closing time. The bookseller explained that she had the ability to stay, and since we were clearly visitors enjoying shopping, she just stayed open for the extra 20 minutes. It was a pleasurable experience requiring human contact.

I'm okay reading on a laptop of tablet, but I hate the idea that the vendor can reach in and change or delete the content. If books become digital only, once a book is out of 'print' it will be unavailable, as DRM means the original owner can't re-sell the book. That's just sad. So many terrific authors will be unavailable.

I'm sure a large part of my love of books is emotional. Being read to as a child, discovering the magic of being able to read, reading to my son, books as a refuge, and books as the repository of knowledge, are a very large part of my life. I met my (now ex-) husband in a bookstore. A friend once asked my son what he'd want most from my house, after I'm gone. He answered "the books" which pleases me inordinately.

But here I am, online, writing on a computer, instead of reading. maybe it's time to pick up a book.
posted by theora55 at 9:42 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


My local bookstore has books I can't find online, or can't find online any more cheaply.

Given the vast numbers of used book stores that make their stock available online, and the vanishingly small number of new books that are truly "unavailable" online I think the first part of this statement ("my local bookstore has books I can't find online") is merely a comment on your skills at online searching. As to whether they can be got "more cheaply" online, that's a rather different point. But unless they're reliably cheaper in your local bookstore, then the competitive advantage is still with online purchasing. The online purchase gets sent right to my door. For the bookstore I have to make a trip and I can't be sure that they will have the book I'm looking for before I get there.

Small independent bookstores won't die away completely, but they'll be a luxury afforded only to those who live in relatively high-density, high-cultural-capital communities and those who can benefit from independently financed hobbyists. For everyone else, online is and will be where it's at.
posted by yoink at 9:45 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh. All I have to say is this; I moved to Portland for 2 reasons. The rain and Powell's. As nice as ordering books online can be, sometimes, when you finish one book in the series, having to wait for it to arrive in the mail can be a bummer. Being able to hop on the Max and go downtown to a bookstore that takes up a whole city block and almost always has the books I'm looking for in stock is probably the nicest convenience of living in a major metropolis. Also, rain. I like rain, too.
posted by daq at 9:52 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yowzer: Seconding Mezenian. No libraries ever, ever again. Never ever ever. Yuck.

Taking one fearmongering media report about bedbugs in libraries as your point of deciding that libraries are no longer ever ever ever getting your business is pretty misguided.

DU: This is the second time I've seen bedbugs and libraries linked together. Don't know when this started, but I sure hope it ends because if some weirdo problem like that kills libraries I'll be pretty angry.

It seems to be a meme and a stupid one at that.

ghharr:The claim in the "books are dead" link that Nashville lost all of it's in-town bookstores isn't really true. There's a Books-A-Million within city limits. It's in suburbia but Parnassus is too, just an older and richer suburb. The large Borders bookstore that closed quickly re-opened as Vanderbilt's campus bookstore, run by Barnes and Noble, so it's functionally a Barnes and Noble that sells college sweatshirts, and is easily the most-central bookstore in town.

It's cool that Patchett has been able to make a store work but I'm kind of bewildered by the gushing attention it's getting since "rich celebrity vanity projects" doesn't seem like a promising plan to save the industry.


I agree with your general thrust ..... but a couple of things:

Parnassus doesn't have a whole lot in terms of selection, you're right, but what it does offer is very well-chosen, which is more than I can say for the chains you mention.

I really wouldn't consider Ann Patchett a "rich celebrity," maybe "upper-middle-class Green Hills author and resident." It's not Nicole Kidman we're talking about here.

Books-A-Million is within city limits, but so is Parnassus. Hillsboro Village/Green Hills isn't a suburb of Nashville; it's in the city proper.
posted by blucevalo at 9:57 AM on February 6, 2013


A friend once asked my son what he'd want most from my house, after I'm gone. He answered "the books" which pleases me inordinately.

There was a terrific New Yorker piece (subscribers only, I'm afraid) a while back about the difficulty of dealing with the writer's father-in-law's library after his death. In my own experience, large book collections are one of the saddest and most difficult things to deal with after someone dies. Sad, because you feel how much the collection meant to the decedent--it feels very personal, very much a part of their lives--but there's usually nothing useful to be done with it. If that person raised their kids to be readers and those kids are now adult they've got houses full of books themselves, there's no way they can take on another household's library. And except in cases where the books are rare first editions or what have you, to almost everyone else they're trash. Used bookstores might give you a pittance for about a twentieth of the volumes, but the rest are essentially recycling.

One of the trickiest things (and I realized this with my own parent's collection when they died--and it's one of the things that the New Yorker piece was really good on) is that while the collection seems deeply personal when you think about it as a whole, when you down to actually looking at it book by book that sense generally dissolves. You look at books and think "geez, what misguided person gave Mum, that?" or "Oh, I guess this is something Dad was asked to review." Even books you know they loved you often look at and think "yeah, they loved this book, but I have a copy and this copy isn't one that in itself was particularly meaningful to them." In the end, the books that really seem worth keeping make a surprisingly small pile.

And they weren't even book "collectors" (they were avid library users). I know people dealing with real "collections" after the death of a parent, and it's often heartbreaking. Something that was clearly a deeply significant treasure to the dear departed becomes a massive nuisance to the next of kin. They don't want to dump it, but they can't find anyone else who will value it--in part or as a whole--the way the original collector did.
posted by yoink at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


By the way, if you're interested in the future of bookselling, I heartily recommend the novel The Last Bookstore in America, which is wonderful and wickedly funny, and (of course) only available on the Kindle.

That would be poetically ironic, but it is not actually true. While The Last Bookstore in America is not available in print, as far as I can tell, you can buy the eBook at every eBook retailer I checked -- including Barnes and Noble, the iBookstore, the Sony Reader store and doubtlessly several others.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 10:42 AM on February 6, 2013


What to do with large book collections: donate to the internet archive. They'll take pretty much anything, scan it, and preserve the physical copy in specially designed storage containers.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:45 AM on February 6, 2013


a library has to touch the main interests of its patrons rather than the depth of need of any given patron.

Then again, the librarian in charge can make a difference for good or ill. My local library, not a bad one, either, has just about everything Joyce Carol Oates has ever written, but can be - spotty - when it comes to other, older (not to say better) writers. My mother's library has a whole wall of romance paperbacks, but is short a whole mess of classics.

What, as they say, is up with that?

While The Last Bookstore in America is not available in print, as far as I can tell, you can buy the eBook at every eBook retailer....


But not borrow it from my local library....
posted by BWA at 10:45 AM on February 6, 2013



Books-A-Million is within city limits, but so is Parnassus. Hillsboro Village/Green Hills isn't a suburb of Nashville; it's in the city proper.


That's true, I'm mainly bristling at her claim that Books-A-Million "on the western edge of the city, near a Costco, and also a Target." doesn't count when it's 1 mile further from downtown than her shop, and probably far more accessible for the majority of Nashville residents.
posted by ghharr at 10:52 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


What to do with large book collections: donate to the internet archive. They'll take pretty much anything, scan it, and preserve the physical copy in specially designed storage containers.

I can't see from their site if they store multiple copies of the same book. I'm guessing that that if a lot of people start donating book collections in this way they'll end up pulping most of what's donated.
posted by yoink at 10:53 AM on February 6, 2013


I have to admit that I often go to my wonderful conducive-for-browsing local bookstore and then go home and reserve the books I like at the library or order them from Amazon. I buy something too out of guilt, but I primarily use the store as a book discovery resource (and to drink coffee and eat muffins from their coffee shop). I know I'm not alone and I know it sucks. Do a portion of Amazon's book sales come from people who use bookstores as book showrooms? Would it behoove Amazon to maintain their own showrooms as bookstores disappear?
posted by Wordwoman at 11:23 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the first part of this statement ("my local bookstore has books I can't find online") is merely a comment on your skills at online searching.

I see. Are the rest of your conjectures on this topic just as speculative?
posted by octobersurprise at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2013


I see. Are the rest of your conjectures on this topic just as speculative?

Um...aren't conjectures, by their nature, speculative? I pretty clearly label this particular conjecture a speculation ("I think..."). Of course, if you'd care to move this point out of the realm of conjecture you could name, say, twenty books that you consider essential reading for anyone who would consider themselves "much of a reader" that you found at your local bookstore and which are unobtainable online. I assume that will be easy for you to do, given that this is obviously something that happens all the time and that you are an avid reader.
posted by yoink at 11:30 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really, I'd never give it a second thought.

(re: bedbugs)

I didn't either until recently. I have many. many books. In fact, my main hobby involves collecting some types of books. But despite the difficulty this decision presents for my hobby, I've finally given up and decided that I won't order used books under almost any circumstances. Why? Because of the risk of coming with special free of charge bed bug pets. I know this is a risk because the last book I ordered used had this bonus offer included. Luckily they were all dead and I double bagged the book in plastic anyway and disposed of it immediately, but it creeps me out so much that I'll never risk it again.

So, yeah, used and library books = BEDBUGS.
posted by Justinian at 11:40 AM on February 6, 2013


if you'd care to move this point out of the realm of conjecture you could name, say, twenty books that you consider essential reading for anyone who would consider themselves "much of a reader" that you found at your local bookstore and which are unobtainable online.

Ask me nicely, Captain-Save-a-Ho-Amazon.com.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:45 AM on February 6, 2013


Maybe if bookstores offered other facilities like sending telegrams and offering stabling for tired mailcoach horses, they can pull through this unfortunate lack of business. If all that fails, then Video Rentals is a way to go. Both Betamax and VHS.
posted by zoo at 11:46 AM on February 6, 2013


I see. Are the rest of your conjectures on this topic just as speculative?

I have to admit I agree. The only reasonable way that someone could assert that being satisfied with reading everything available through Amazon or its affiliates, everything the other national Amazons sell, everything available through alibris or other online aggregators of physical used bookstores, and so on must, make you "not not much of a reader" is through radical ignorance of what's available online, or a definition of "much of a reader" that's so idiosyncratic as to be useless.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:54 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now remove all the self published, unreadable vanity projects, the scammy "reprints" of Wikipedia pages, the 20-odd different editions of the same 10-15 out of print classic novels, all the "Christian" books undsoweiter and how much worthwhile books are you left with?

About 300,000 by my reckoning. One of the interesting things about Amazon and the Kindle in the last two years for me has been, despite my inveterate snobbery, how many self-published books do not suck. Of the ones I've picked up, about 1 in 5 are well-written, well-edited and well-formatted happy surprises.

I do really wish Amazon had a better mechanism for saying "This book is Christian lit of some description and should be taken out of mainstream mystery / thriller / romance / whatever and put into the Christian mystery / Christian thriller / Christian romance / Christian whatever sub-genre."
posted by DarlingBri at 12:10 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


yoink: You're right that they're doing de-duplication before proceeding to digitization and archival. Here's a blog post about what it is, exactly, that they're up to. That article doesn't say, but this article from huffington post says that they're not pulping duplicates:
At this early stage in the book collection process, specific titles aren't being sought out so much as large collections. Duplicate copies of books already in the archive are re-donated elsewhere.
Both articles talk about a 'visceral reaction' that people have to the destruction of books. They're of the same mind.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2013


As nice as ordering books online can be, sometimes, when you finish one book in the series, having to wait for it to arrive in the mail can be a bummer.

What's even faster than going to a store, though, is buying the ebook version and having it immediately. And it's not difficult to strip DRM from a book and save it in an open format, thus preserving it as long as you have the actual file -- I always go through that process with ebooks, so the company can't affect the files I use.
posted by jeather at 12:15 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Both articles talk about a 'visceral reaction' that people have to the destruction of books. They're of the same mind.

Alan Partridge goes to see copies of his book being pulped.
posted by Wordshore at 12:28 PM on February 6, 2013


Ask me nicely, Captain-Save-a-Ho-Amazon.com.

That does a lot to solidify my conjectures, thank you.
posted by yoink at 1:18 PM on February 6, 2013


It's cool that Patchett has been able to make a store work but I'm kind of bewildered by the gushing attention it's getting since "rich celebrity vanity projects" doesn't seem like a promising plan to save the industry.

Indeed. For me, people who open independent bookstores, and tragics like us who talk about independent bookstores remind me of nothing so much as people who open restaurants because they love cooking and food.

It's not enough, yo. You can cook an amazing meal, but a meal - like a book, or a collection of them - is not a business. Profit margins, revenues, outgoings etc. Books are more often than not very low margin objects for retailers, it's tough, man. You need to move a lot to make money, and you need to do it quickly, and you need to do it consistently.

They suit a volume market - as a business commodity, much as people seem to hate thinking about them that way.

I dunno; I'm like, the anti-independent bookstore guy. Our independent bookstores that I went to in Oz more often than not had a) shit range, b) jaw-droppingly shit prices, and c) more often than not shit service. I'm not gonna pay a $7 premium to subsidise your hobby, and some weird, Frank Capra shit about how important it is to have a local bookstore. When Borders opened up in Brisbane it was like a hundred thousand bookie flowers blooming. Of course, they went broke cause those massive stores had sky-high rents and depended on high turnover.

But I didn't even care because between the magic of Abebooks, Better World Books, Book Depository, and latterly the Kindle, I have all the books I could ever want - all of them - and the crazy thing is they are cheaper now than they ever have been. Crazy! They are really, incredibly cheap now, like, as cheap as they were in the eighties here.

For me, that's awesome. I care about the books first and foremost, I don't need to browse; I don't need the atmosphere or the smell or some shit; I don't need to feel like me and the bookseller are in some kind of a special, intellectual club - I just want the books. I've not set foot in a bookstore for many a moon, and I LOVE it.
posted by smoke at 1:39 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


That does a lot to solidify my conjectures, thank you.

Rise, Sir Yoink. On the field of internet, you have defended the honor of Amazon manfully.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:44 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I care about the books first and foremost, I don't need to browse; I don't need the atmosphere or the smell or some shit; I don't need to feel like me and the bookseller are in some kind of a special, intellectual club - I just want the books.

I suppose I've pissed off enough people in this discussion, so I'd be better to hold my keys, but, while on the one hand I do honestly believe that READING IS FUNDAMENTAL and that people should be encouraged to read whatever they can get their hands on, on the other, I read a sentence like the above and I can't help hearing "Man, I just want the words. Just the words, man. I don't need any fancy ornaments like pages or books or stores. Give me a fuckin' cereal box and I'll read those fuckin' words."

Those words, man. They'll knock you out.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:03 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Despite living in Bumfuck North Dakota, I have two independent bookstores within reasonable driving distance (a very nebulous definition out here). Both have very knowledgeable and helpful employees and I visit them whenever I'm in those towns. But their selection for science fiction/fantasy is abysmal. I could easily find romance, kid's books, or that trendy best-seller (say for instance, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl). But the genre that my wallet most identifies with is sadly lacking. Now I could find a fair amount of what I want at the Barnes and Noble in Minot or Bismarck, where I can pay full price. But it is sooooo much easier to go on Amazon and pay less. And don't even get me started on trying to buy music out here in the sticks... For those of us out in the boondocks, Amazon is worthy of sainthood.
posted by Ber at 2:18 PM on February 6, 2013


Been a while since I bought a book. I'm saving up for this.

The hit rate of wheat-vs-chaff for NYRB Classics is remarkably high, I think I've picked up about two dozen of them and only one - The Adventures And Misadventures Of Maqroll - was bad enough for me to give up on.

Beautiful little volumes too. Clean design and with a good heft, high-quality paper, not particularly expensive, and a staggering array of genres and nationalities represented. The spines are a little harder to spot on the shelves of a secondhand bookstore than, say, the orange/black Penguins, or white Picadors, but they're worth the extra effort.

I have a complete list of all NYRB Classics reprints and always refer to it whenever I'm in any bookstore, and am always excited to find an old "original" printing and even more excited to find an NYRB Classics printing because then they all match on my shelf!

Hell, the quality of their selection has even encouraged me to check out Daphne du Maurier (always thought she was just mass-market soft-horror like V.C. Andrews) and...wait for it...Elizabeth Taylor. And they're both actually really great!

Make mine NYRB Classics!
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:25 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read a sentence like the above and I can't help hearing...

Well you should help, because that's not what I'm saying and is frankly indicative of the snooty elitism I come across all too often in relation to purveyors of independent books and their clientele.

Judging other people's reading habits - or lack thereof - is a form of mental masturbation I try - unsuccessfully at times (see recent post on why Twilight and 50 Shades is great...) - to abstain from.
posted by smoke at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2013


Oh wow I sound like a massive shill. Whatever, I don't care, I'm pumped!
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:34 PM on February 6, 2013


Rise, Sir Yoink. On the field of internet, you have defended the honor of Amazon manfully.

The fact that you confuse "online" with "Amazon" (one particular online outlet among many and one I happen not to have mentioned in this thread) again confirms that you really do not have any clue, at all, about how to go about searching for books "online."

I'm quite prepared to believe that you may have found one or two books in your local independent bookstore you couldn't find on Amazon (although I'm noticing your deep reluctance to actually give a single example). That is not the same thing, at all, as not being able to find them "online."
posted by yoink at 2:46 PM on February 6, 2013


Oh wow I sound like a massive shill. Whatever, I don't care, I'm pumped!

Wow now that would be a collection. Great list. I would love to get my hands on some of those. Won't happen anytime soon as money is tight. I found a couple I've never heard of in the commons though so thanks for the list.
posted by Jalliah at 2:48 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


ILL is a great thing, where it's available and not discouraged. When I lived in New England, getting books via ILL was a standard thing; when you searched the catalog it would tell you (if the local library didn't have an item) where else it was and let you set up an ILL right there. Intrastate ILLs in Connecticut were like 1 or 2 days lead time at most IIRC. There's some fairly significant logistics that go on the backend to make that possible, presumably.

We have this in Michigan--it's called the Michigan Electronic Catalog, or MelCat. You have to search MelCat separately from the library catalog but there's a link to do it that shows up when you've entered a search. I am a heavy user. The university libraries being connected means you can often get books that aren't popular enough to be bought by a local library, and every now and then it's clear that some little podunk library had a librarian or patron who was especially interested in a topic--I used to get piles of homeschooling books from a library in a little town in the Upper Peninsula, for instance.

A bunch of local libraries consolidated into a district library system ten years ago, as well. It usually takes a day or two for something to arrive at your branch from another branch of the distrcit library, and maybe as long as a week for MelCat items.
posted by not that girl at 3:03 PM on February 6, 2013


that you really do not have any clue, at all, about how to go about searching for books "online."

Oh, please. I wrote "Amazon" because it scanned better. I bought books off Interloc back in the day. Did you? And I've been doing it since. Doesn't change the fact that I still find things in brick and mortar stores that I either haven't seen online or which I can buy just as cheaply as I could online. You can take my word for that or not; I don't give a good goddamn.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:07 PM on February 6, 2013


I still find things in brick and mortar stores that I either haven't seen online

That's a rather different (and entirely believable) claim. My only doubt was as to whether they would be unavailable online altogether, and yet also be essential reading for anyone who wished to consider themselves well-read. Given that you seem to have tacitly dropped that original, rather startling, claim I guess we've arrived at a point of mutual agreement. Oh, how I love a happy ending.
posted by yoink at 3:38 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Coincidentally, another MetaFilter post from today is about an article which gives another good example in favor of public libraries. Go to the paragraph about halfway down that begins "In December..."
posted by Wordshore at 4:08 PM on February 6, 2013


Side note: if you haven't read any Ann Patchett, 'State of Wonder' is a rather engaging novel. It starts off kinda like a modern-day version of 'Heart of Darkness', and gradually morphs into something else. Avoid spoilers if possible. Maybe you could order it from her shop? (If you order it, you can mention to her that the YouTube video of her book club is technically awkward and clunky).
posted by ovvl at 5:07 PM on February 6, 2013


My only doubt was as to whether they would be unavailable online altogether, and yet also be essential reading for anyone who wished to consider themselves well-read. Given that you seem to have tacitly dropped that original, rather startling, claim

If you'll read what I wrote instead of what you want to imagine I wrote you'll see that I never made any such claim. In fact, I'll bet real money that you can't show me where I made that claim. You've been arguing with yourself, yoink. Congrats on your glorious victory.

(Btw, did you ever use Interloc, or were you still learning to read when I was hunting for books online?)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:25 PM on February 6, 2013


[yoink, octobersurprise, may be time to take this to email?]
posted by jessamyn at 8:37 PM on February 6, 2013


I think this is all-- the balance among bricks and mortar retail, libraries and ebooks-- extremely consequential for the kind of reading we do. Years ago I read a comment by Zadie Smith to the effect that the digital book phenomenon (fairly new at the time) was a good thing, because nothing would ever go out of print. Lately I'm always thinking about the survival of good midlist fiction. A lot of it from the 60s up to the digital revolution is not in print or digitized. Like this or this or this.

When I go to buy a secondhand copy of one of these books, which if I'm lucky is available for purchase online in a hard copy, where are these hard copies coming from? Why, they've been de-acquisitioned from libraries. These are very worthy books, in my opinion. Good midlist fiction from writers who are currently writing are suffering the same fate, but at least potentially the authors themselves can digitize the books as they often own the rights. So yeah, there is a lot that you can't find in a bookstore or digitally or, what is really sad, in most libraries. I don't know the solution to that. Going forward, more books like the ones I listed above will come out digitally (maybe only digitally). But they will be swamped with all the other digital offerings since there is now such a low bar to publication in that format.

No question, there are going to be fewer and fewer physical bookstores. And at the same time, browsing and discovery online is becoming fun for some, but for others, too confusing or overwhelming. I think there will be types of literature that suffer a lot because of this, and we will be losing something as readers. Hopefully there will be new ways for worthy literature to rise to the top or at least to visibility. It's not even out of the question that we'll have better things to read because of that. But right now, we don't know.
posted by BibiRose at 7:52 AM on February 8, 2013


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