7 year bookends
June 16, 2013 1:19 PM   Subscribe

25 Things I'm Learning From Closing a Bookstore. (previously)
posted by telstar (138 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Um. Am I really that much of an over-achiever because I can tell you what half of $7.50 or $3.50 are? In any case this list was a lot less interesting than I'd hoped. Books are heavy! Math is hard! Harlequin Romances mostly suck! Well all-rightie then.
posted by Justinian at 1:28 PM on June 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Needed more cats.
posted by Artw at 1:29 PM on June 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


Which reminds me that I need to go out and patronize my local used bookstores.

That really drew a tear to my eye.
posted by Mercaptan at 1:32 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


She seemed not to like her customers all that much and to look down on both their tastes and their intellectual abilities. Maybe retail wasn't the best idea for a career, let alone the buggy whip trade.
posted by spitbull at 1:35 PM on June 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


Maybe your bookstore is closing because your customers can tell that you think they're all idiots who read nothing but romance novels and comic books.
posted by aparrish at 1:36 PM on June 16, 2013 [34 favorites]


.
posted by nevercalm at 1:37 PM on June 16, 2013


I hate it when small bookstores close. My favorite one was run out of town by Borders in 2005, and I'm still pissed about that.
posted by MissySedai at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just wait until your Borders is run out of town by people's indifference to physical books.
posted by dogwalker at 1:42 PM on June 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


Local Area Woman Stocks Bookstore With Vampire Werewolf Zombie Romance Porno Mass Market Paperbacks, Doesn't Understand Gradeschool Arithmetic. Bookstore Folds to Perplexity of Local Township.

~Sent From My Nookindlithingy
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 1:43 PM on June 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


Just wait until your Borders is run out of town by people's indifference to physical books.

The space that Borders occupied is now a very large Forever 21.
posted by MissySedai at 1:44 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe your bookstore is closing because your customers can tell that you think they're all idiots who read nothing but romance novels and comic books.

I bet you're right. God knows nothing else could affect this burgeoning trade.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:45 PM on June 16, 2013 [26 favorites]


The space that Borders occupied is now a very large Forever 21.

Mine is now a pub.

And then I got a Kindle and felt no guilt.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe their store is closing because everyone on Metafilter is ridiculously hostile.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:56 PM on June 16, 2013 [86 favorites]


23. If customers are standing in front of the mystery section looking for Lee Child, and you tell them that the mysteries are in alphabetical order by author names and then leave the room to pack up books, nine out of ten will be standing in the same place, not knowing which way to turn, when you come back.

If customers ask for something you can find in two seconds and you can't be bothered to point your finger at it, you are terrible at your job.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:00 PM on June 16, 2013 [38 favorites]


Maybe their store is closing because everyone on Metafilter is ridiculously hostile.

Oh, I'm a romantic, I will absolutely salute the doomed enterprise of opening a bookstore in 2006.
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


And then I got a Kindle and felt no guilt.

Nor gilt edges!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:04 PM on June 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sys Rq: "23. If customers are standing in front of the mystery section looking for Lee Child, and you tell them that the mysteries are in alphabetical order by author names and then leave the room to pack up books, nine out of ten will be standing in the same place, not knowing which way to turn, when you come back.

If customers ask for something you can find in two seconds and you can't be bothered to point your finger at it, you are terrible at your job.
"

This is especially frustrating because earlier she made a joke about how she can't divide $7.50 by 2, which is totally alright.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:05 PM on June 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I can understand feeling bitter when your business is closing. But she doesn't express any real sense of loss or recount much pleasure, so you don't get the sense she enjoyed running a bookstore. If you're operating in a struggling market, you suffer from unfaltering idealism, and you don't genuinely enjoy the day-to-day of retail, then it probably makes sense to close shop and move on.

I like patronizing small stores, but I'll tell you what. Last week I was in a camera store in Boston. The staff are friendly, and I enjoy giving them my business. I wanted to buy a camera sling. I used the Internet to research my options and decided between the final two brands based on the fact that this camera shop was listed as a dealer for one. When I got to the shop, they had none in stock. They didn't even have an empty hook. They had a small selection of camera straps, much cheaper and low quality, and those clearly hadn't been touched (or dusted) in at least a month.

While I was standing there talking to the staff, a tourist came in asking about a cable to connect his camera to a laptop. The clerk handed him one wrong cable. The tourist politely explained, "No, that's a printer cable." The clerk handed him a different type of printer cable, and the tourist politely left.

I'm seeing this more and more. Maybe it's because Internet commerce has improved over the past few years, or maybe it's because retail service is going downhill, or maybe it's just me. But I find myself saying often, "I should've just used Amazon."

And bookstores have the compounding challenge of price: I don't mind paying an extra dollar or two to shop local, but if I can get the same book in two days for half price on Amazon? I'm eyeing The Art of Photography, which I've heard great things about, and I can save twenty dollars on Amazon versus a bookstore. Amazon isn't Walmart. I've had great experiences with Amazon, from the phone reps to their corporate office. I prefer local business and I do my best to patronize them, but I'll admit, not always at any price.
posted by cribcage at 2:06 PM on June 16, 2013 [20 favorites]


Oh, come on, people, this is not "A Carefully Written, Thoughtfully Edited Essay Encompassing The Most Important Truths I Have Learned in Seven Years", it is "Some random things that occurred to me while I was moving". If there are a lot of references to romances perhaps it is because she happens to have a whole lot of romances sitting around that she needs to deal with and not because she is making some kind of grand statement about her customers.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:09 PM on June 16, 2013 [27 favorites]


I would've felt offended at her assumption that people can't figure out 1/2 of $7.50, but then I am just terrible at math so I can't really be. (No, really, it makes me a few minutes every time. I blame my dyslexia.)
posted by Kitteh at 2:09 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


http://www.myopicbookstore.com/

I buy all my books here and kindle can suck it. Pricing is simple and transparent (all books are half off the list price - less if damaged). Scifi, romance, mystery and "genre" books are kept in the basement where they belong. They find books for you and all the staff are hugely knowledgeable and literate. Books on philosophy and literature are often hard to come by because they're do popular. Beat authors are kept under the register because starving poet types try and make off with them.

It is entirely possible to own and operate a successful bookstore if you can manage it like the living social organism that it is, price transparently, and know books. This woman deserves to be criticized because she doesn't seem to know or do any of these things.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 2:10 PM on June 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Some people just aren't cut out for the face-to-face aspect of running a business, no matter how much they love and know what they're selling.

One of my housemates and I went shopping for a grill yesterday. We went to Lowes first. Saw some things we liked, had questions, took forever to find someone to actually talk to.

Then we went to a small, local place. The one we wanted was the same price, and someone came and talked to us three seconds after we stepped through the door. They do charge for delivery, but we agreed that the local-ness and good service is well worth and extra $25.
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on June 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I still enjoy book stores because I can randomly wander in and find something unexpected just by browsing philosophy, or sociology, or Sci-Fi. You can't really replicate that through Amazon. I guess the problem is that I only feel like doing that once or twice a month.

I agree that the article is a bit strange... it seems like it's more of a shrug than anything else.
posted by codacorolla at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Clearly her problem was waiting too long before retaining all of the experienced bookstore consultants on MeFi
posted by adamsc at 2:17 PM on June 16, 2013 [22 favorites]


The article was sort of sweet? I remember the previous article, and I was sort of excited for her then, hoping she'd make it. I am sad that things didn't work out, but I think seven years is a decent run for a small business, honestly.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:19 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've worked for a small independent bookstore as it closed. We loved our customers and didn't look down on them.

And I agree with every single point she made.
posted by desuetude at 2:21 PM on June 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


If there are a lot of references to romances perhaps it is because she happens to have a whole lot of romances sitting around that she needs to deal with and not because she is making some kind of grand statement about her customers.

Mm, yes, however romance is the best-selling category of books ('largest share of the US consumer market in 2012,' at nearly 17%). If you can't sell people romances, you are fucked. Also, if you don't like romance novels, don't open a general interest bookstore; genre readers are intelligent enough to realize when they're being catered to begrudgingly.

It sounds like she liked non-fiction (that reference to wanting people to know the difference between non-fiction and fiction--and just what is wrong with a working definition that stops at 'true and not true'?) and literary novels and other highbrow lit. She certainly doesn't like comic books, graphic novels, or romance novels--though hey, she could like mysteries and sci-fi a whole heap, I don't know her life--and that's kind of a problem in a regular flavor bookstore as they sell a lot of genre stuff.

I'm not an 'experienced bookstore consultant' and I don't really want to be. I use libraries and Amazon, with an occasional trip to Barnes and Noble to supplement things. But I can, and I think all of us should, feel free to reflect on and question her experiences a bit.
posted by librarylis at 2:22 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would've felt offended at her assumption that people can't figure out 1/2 of $7.50, but then I am just terrible at math so I can't really be.

So, I was the only one that got the sense that when she said "people can't figure out half of $7.50", she was really saying "I can't figure out half of $7.50"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:26 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Er... she flat-out said she couldn't figure it out. No reading between the lines needed.
posted by Justinian at 2:26 PM on June 16, 2013


13,892,641 people self-published a book instead of browsing in a bookstore

I'm a bit biased, but what an odd complaint. It's like saying your used CD store closed down because people were too busy uploading original songs to Soundcloud...
posted by Ian A.T. at 2:29 PM on June 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


But I can, and I think all of us should, feel free to reflect on and question her experiences a bit.

I just think it's weird to do that based on what is obviously a single tongue-in-cheek blog post about a particular experience because it comes across as really projecting and stuff.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:29 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Er... she flat-out said she couldn't figure it out. No reading between the lines needed.

Which makes it all the more puzzling, then, that people thought she was making fun of others rather than herself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:30 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live in a very rural area. There is two independent bookstores in bigger towns somewhat near me. I like to patronize them but it's hard. I spend the majority of my book money on fantasy and science fiction but both stores seem to think that stocking a lot of Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind seems to suffice.

But what are these stores to do? If you want to stay in business, you have to stock the shelves for the lumpen. Which means a hefty amount of romance and children's books, or YA paranormal romance. Then just stock the genres with the best sellers and to hell with the rest. It's a bit maddening for a discerning genre reader but I can't blame the stores.
posted by Ber at 2:31 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's why Amazon was the greatest thing to happen to book lovers since movable type.
posted by Justinian at 2:34 PM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Saying harlequin romance is the most popular type of book is like saying hardcore porno is the most popular type of movie. While technically true it's kind of hard to run a video store with "just a little" Backdoor Babes 9 and still get people coming in interested in other films. Same with books. And ye gads, Barnes and Noble is a toy store and day care these days. I haven't been in one that hasn't smelled like used diapers crossed with double whip no fat soy mochiato in about 5 years. The smell of old books is tragically absent.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 2:34 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Backdoor Babes 9

I preferred the novel.
posted by stargell at 2:42 PM on June 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


She seemed not to like her customers all that much and to look down on both their tastes and their intellectual abilities.

She should open a comics shop.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:44 PM on June 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


Or a graphic novel store!

actually, the guys at The Beguiling are pretty great and not condescending.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:46 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Amazon isn't Walmart.

Amazon is Walmart.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:52 PM on June 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


I would've felt offended at her assumption that people can't figure out 1/2 of $7.50,

Not offended - but also not surprised she's closing her store.
posted by pompomtom at 2:53 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


(that reference to wanting people to know the difference between non-fiction and fiction--and just what is wrong with a working definition that stops at 'true and not true'?)

off the top of my head - The Bible, telepathy, and The Secret?
posted by jacalata at 2:53 PM on June 16, 2013


It is entirely possible to own and operate a successful bookstore if you can manage it like the living social organism that it is, price transparently, and know books.

"Possible," perhaps, in a very few particular markets--but in the current economic climate and with the advent of Amazon and e-books there are plenty of well-run bookshops run by people who "know books" and who price transparently and whose bookshops were "living social organisms" for many years which are going under or which went under recently. Suggesting that all that stands in the way or a successful independent bookstore is the incompetence of bookstore owners is rather silly.
posted by yoink at 2:54 PM on June 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


the original half Price Books on NW HWY in Dallas is terribly missed. They moved years ago across the street to a slick, soulless megabarn...and the magic went POOF....all gone
posted by shockingbluamp at 2:59 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tend to dislike this kind of list even though we see a lot of the same odd customer behavior in our used bookstore. Honestly, I really don't get the folks in the book business who dismiss popular genre fiction and the folks who love it. It's the business. Embrace that shit, dammit. Your customers will feel the love.

Anyway, knock wood, the mom-and-pop store that gives me full-time employment and health insurance is still doing well (cf my comment in the "previously" post). A solid third of our business still comes from online sales, which have more than made up for any decline in foot traffic over the last, say, ten years. The author of the link doesn't say if she was listing at least some of her books at Abebooks but if she wasn't, she was making a big mistake. That said, we're still doing good business through the front door, thanks to both loyal longtime regulars and a consistent stream of new bookloving types who easily find us via Yelp and Google, both of which nicely obviate the need for us to do any advertising. Win-win.

I've given up arguing with the snarky MeFi "used bookstores are dinosaurs good riddance" crowd; they feel what they feel. But I'm in a used book and music store 5 days a week watching excited book and music lovers buying used physical product, in person, hour after hour, day after day. There are an awful lot of them out on weekends in particular.

The Cretaceous ain't over yet, is all I'm saying.

By a long shot.
posted by mediareport at 3:04 PM on June 16, 2013 [31 favorites]


It's 2013 and she's closing the used bookstore she's had for seven years. That means she bought the used bookstore in 2006, give or take.

Raise your hand if you would've thought opening a used bookstore in 2006 was a good idea.

Sure, the Kindle didn't come along until late 2007. But come on. This wasn't a bookstore. It was a hobby.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:05 PM on June 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Even pre-Amazon they were probably up there with opening a restraunt in terms of survivability anyway, TBH.
posted by Artw at 3:07 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work for a used bookstore - one of a regional chain of five - that's going gangbusters. It opened in 2005. We're so busy we never stop moving. Literally hundreds of books come through out doors each day - both ways. There are customers lined up at the registers. The owners are making BANK. There are 12 people on staff and all of us run from morning to night.

Yes, we sell lots of romance novels and lots of graphic novels and lots of nonfiction (and it is true that an alarming number of people really don't know the difference between fiction and nonfiction) and lots, of, well, everything actually. We all know our stuff, can find you a book despite our complete lack of anything resembling an inventory and pretty much love our jobs. All the reports of all bookstores going down are a little premature, I think. On preview, what mediareport said.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:08 PM on June 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


Also, recently, for those of you casually discussing how all bookstores are dead.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:11 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Person moving: "Lesson 9: there is so much change in the couch cushions that each and every guest must've lost at least 15 cents. ;) "

MetaFilter:
- "What an awful host! Don't you help your guests take home with them the things they brought?"
- "Yeah, people who steal from their guests don't end up with many friends. No wonder she had to move!"
posted by salvia at 3:17 PM on June 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


I work for a used bookstore - one of a regional chain of five - that's going gangbusters.

Yep. Honestly, it's hard for me not to laugh at the folks reflexively joking about how stupid the used book business is these days. For the record, a friend opened a used bookstore in Clayton, NC - a half-rural, half-bedroom community about a half-hour outside of Raleigh - in 2008. Three years later, this article ran in the local paper:

Who says the bookstore business is a bygone?

Casey Kelly and his wife, who opened Pauper's Books & More in Clayton three years ago, are preparing to move into a space more than twice as large. The current store, at 11801 U.S. 70 West, in the Clayton Corners shopping center anchored by Lowes Foods, is scheduled to close Oct. 7. Then the new spot will open Nov. 1, just a few doors down in the same strip mall. The new, 3,000-square-foot space will include couches and an expanded children's area. It also will allow Kelly to carry a wider selection of used books, CDs, DVDs and more.

One key to the store's success, Kelly said, is that Pauper's is able to compete on prices with Amazon.com and electronic books. Even with the financial trouble of big chains like Borders, bargain-minded book lovers still enjoy being able to browse, and Kelly said he's built up a solid base of regular customers. Shoppers also can reserve books at the store's website ( paupersbooks.com).

Kelly, a UNC Chapel Hill alumnus, previously worked at Nice Price Books in Raleigh. "I used that time to apprentice, to see how to buy books and what sells," he said. "The owner told me to find a good shopping center with a grocery store and park there. I got a loan and followed my dream. Since Day One, we've been doing amazingly well."


The snark is cute, I buy books and music online all the time, etc etc. But anyone who tells you the brick-and-mortar used bookstore business is dead doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about.
posted by mediareport at 3:18 PM on June 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


I live in Nashville -- where until recently, when Ann Patchett opened the bookstore that almost everyone raved about when it opened a year and a half ago, there was only a single "new" bookstore inside the county line because all the others had gone out of business.

Last I heard, Parnassus is still going strong, and we have a number of fantastic and well-thriving used bookstores here as well. As Patchett herself said, "People might not use ice to refrigerate anymore, but that doesn't mean they don't still want some ice in their scotch and in their tea. There is still a real place for ice. And when the power is out, we are mighty grateful for a bag of the stuff."
posted by blucevalo at 3:23 PM on June 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


Used book stores are probably less doomed than new book stores. The prices compare favorably to Amazon. And used book stores cut across the historic strata in a way that even the Borders of the world had long since ceased to.
posted by wotsac at 3:37 PM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Saying harlequin romance is the most popular type of book is like saying hardcore porno is the most popular type of movie. While technically true it's kind of hard to run a video store with "just a little" Backdoor Babes 9 and still get people coming in interested in other films.

Pretty much every non chain video store I ever remember going to in the pre-internet times had a little "adults only" room in the back, and even at a blockbuster or whatever, half of the "thriller" section was bad Cinemax soft porn.
posted by St. Sorryass at 3:40 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justinian: "Um. Am I really that much of an over-achiever because I can tell you what half of $7.50 or $3.50 are?"

Maybe...or it was just an easy setup for a cheap Hurr Hurr English Major joke.
posted by notsnot at 3:52 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


What St. Sorryass said. It is not "kind of hard" to run a brick-and-mortar video rental store with "just a little" porn in the back; in fact, that's actually a fairly common way to make the business work. The rental store a few blocks from me is a good example; they're surviving and renting a ton of mainstream and kid movies and tv shows, but a significant chunk of what keeps them going is the adult room in the back.

I'm guessing that's the norm more than the exception.
posted by mediareport at 3:53 PM on June 16, 2013


I'm a bookstore skeptic - I think Amazon is the best thing to happen to readers in a really, really long time, and can't say that I particularly miss the dour, annoyed looks of most of the indie bookstore proprietors I've had the "pleasure" of dealing with.

But it's not at all crazy to expect that some - a select few, maybe 2-3 for medium sized cities, 4-5 for big ones - used bookstores would survive the Amazon onslaught. Bookstores are fun places to hang out, they sell a product that's compelling for both real (books are fun to read!) and positional (it's nice to be seen as a person who reads books!) reasons. Their product overwhelmingly is sold to rich demographics who are a nice target for high-margin add-on products like coffee and pastries. Like a local bar, there's the opportunity to build an actual community centered on the store, one that provides a sustaining baseline of business in lean times.

The ability to take advantage of those things, though, isn't part and parcel of having a passion for books. That's a necessary but not sufficient condition for succeeding in the market; you have to be a good businessperson to make it work. And I think what we're seeing is that that pressure from Amazon has raised the importance of business skills in running a successful bookstore.
posted by downing street memo at 3:54 PM on June 16, 2013


Their product overwhelmingly is sold to rich demographics

*snorts vodka out nose*

Allow me to introduce you to our primary customer base sometime.
posted by mediareport at 4:00 PM on June 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


mediareport: The snark is cute, I buy books and music online all the time, etc etc. But anyone who tells you the brick-and-mortar used bookstore business is dead doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about.
Or possibly: you don't know the difference between anecdotes and data.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:03 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Allow me to introduce you to our primary customer base sometime.

I'd be willing to bet that the typical customer of an indie bookstore (and indeed of bookstores in general) is above-median in annual income and education.
posted by downing street memo at 4:05 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there really a huge narrative that used bookstores are doomed? I had thought people were mainly saying bookstores that only sell new books are in trouble.

Used bookstores have the tremendous advantage that you don't have to pay shipping on those under $5 books.
posted by shoyu at 4:06 PM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


That's a necessary but not sufficient condition for succeeding in the market; you have to be a good businessperson to make it work. And I think what we're seeing is that that pressure from Amazon has raised the importance of business skills in running a successful bookstore.

Amazon has raised the importance of relying of sweat-shop labor to reduce overhead and expenses. Those who want to categorize that under "business skills" please let me know as I will want to avoid doing any business with you. Thanks!
posted by jammy at 4:13 PM on June 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Amazon has raised the importance of relying of sweat-shop labor to reduce overhead and expenses. Those who want to categorize that under "business skills" please let me know as I will want to avoid doing any business with you. Thanks!

I think you may have misread my comment? We've got piecemeal evidence that some Amazon contractors have unacceptable conditions in their warehouses. But regardless, even if the entire company were a giant slave labor camp, in the absence of some kind of government intervention or consumer revolt, independent bookstores would need to get a lot better at actual business to compete.

I think the preponderance of the evidence, though, points to the fact that Amazon is tough to beat because of massive economies of scale, rather than treating their labor poorly.
posted by downing street memo at 4:19 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think all bookstores are doomed. Well-curated sets of new books are fantastic -- there's none here that I am particularly fond of, but I love finding them when I travel. And used bookstores can compete with Amazon.

There was a well-curated bookstore here. I didn't ever buy books there because there must have been a pretentious asshole test to get a job. They also promised they'd get UK editions of books, but never did, and when I asked they couldn't do it. Now I go to the Book Depository for that, and the bookstore shut because they were all assholes.

If customers are standing in front of the mystery section looking for Lee Child, and you tell them that the mysteries are in alphabetical order by author names and then leave the room to pack up books, nine out of ten will be standing in the same place, not knowing which way to turn, when you come back.

And the last one will, I assume, have walked out.

If bookstores that are all about being pretentious all shut, it will be a net good.
posted by jeather at 4:23 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd be willing to bet that the typical customer of an indie bookstore (and indeed of bookstores in general) is above-median in annual income and education.

Ah ha ha ha ha ha. Heh hee hee hee. Uh huh. How much? How much will you bet me? I could really use the money!

The typical customer at our bookstore, if there is such a creature, is an over 60 lower middle class woman. She reads a lot, she likes to trade her books in, she doesn't like the library because there's no parking and she feels they look down their noses at paperback romances of all stripes. Her annual income, is, I would bet, under $30,000 a year. Probably well under. Than there are the older men who read the Westerns; they're not rich either. On a harsher note, we see an awful lot of young families coming in to sell their DVDs and CDs for gas or food or diaper money.

Sure, there are some wealthy people but they stand out. They're the exception, not the rule.
posted by mygothlaundry at 4:30 PM on June 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


Or possibly: you don't know the difference between anecdotes and data.

I suppose you'd have a point if anyone in this thread talking about the inevitable death of the used bookstore had offered data. Anyway, I'm not sure how I could have made it more clear I was offering my own personal experience.
posted by mediareport at 4:47 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's what I could quickly find on bookstore customer demographics. No median customer data, but
clear signs that wealthier/more educated demographics are disproportionate spenders on books.

Now if you're running a straight-up used bookshop, mygothlaundry, I can understand why the data might not be true to your particular case, but that's about a wrinkle in your own business model. In general, bookstores have a relatively wealthy, relatively well-educated clientele, and the best ones that I've seen take advantage of that fact by being good businesspeople and hooking them into a community of readers and turning them into buyers of coffee, pastries, and other high-margin nonmedia products.
posted by downing street memo at 4:53 PM on June 16, 2013


You're confusing used bookstores with new bookstores, I think, downing street memo. I can believe the demo is upscale for folks who shop at stores that sell new books (and pastries, etc).
posted by mediareport at 4:54 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, the bookstore industry indicators mentioned in downing street memo's link come from this report, which specifically "excludes retailers that operate primarily as used merchandise stores" in its definition of the bookstore industry.
posted by mediareport at 4:59 PM on June 16, 2013


I find that my book reading habits are so far outside the feature-set of both new and used brick and mortar bookstores that I'm simply not served by going to them. The best I can do is to go to Barnes & Noble and grab a coffee while I browse a magazine or something like that.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:59 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


But what are these stores to do? If you want to stay in business, you have to stock the shelves for the lumpen.

Within fifteen minutes of my house are two fantastic bookstores which have never stocked for the lumpen (although I am sure they would order The Da Vinci Code for you if you asked). They are both doing well enough that they have gone into new hands in the last five years, not because the previous owners figured it was a dying trade but because they retired after decades and left their respective places in the hands of longtime employees. And more importantly, in both cases, the employees after decades in the book trade, decided they could carry on and continue to run a robust business.

But as always on the blue, I learn that the day-to-day experience of experts in the field does not stand up to buggy whip jokes made by people who are delighted that they can carry around the entire Stephenie Meyer oeuvre on their e-reader and never have to visit a locally-owned business again.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:20 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, come on. Liking ereaders doesn't mean that you only read crappy books and that you don't shop at locally-owned businesses. I have heard that there are local businesses which sell things that are not books, for example.
posted by jeather at 5:32 PM on June 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


The space that Borders occupied is now a very large Forever 21.

Mine is now a pub.


Mine is now a seasonal Halloween costume store.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:36 PM on June 16, 2013


In a similar vein, though maybe better written, is Bookseller without Borders where a long-time Borders employee writes about closing the store he worked for, and watching the chain shutter. It's a couple of years old now, but as both an ex-Borders employee, and someone who later had his own store for ten years before losing it to Amazon, I could really appreciate it. It sucks to close a business, but it's especially painful to close something that defined a significant part of a community. The last month of my own store was particularly torturous. It felt like I was attending my own funeral just so I could be there to support others, and to ease the pain of the community. I felt like complete shit, but I had to be strong for everyone else for whom this was such a terrible tragedy, but who hadn't just lost all their savings and their job.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:46 PM on June 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


I used to spend a lot of time in used book stores. I haven't set foot in one in several years. (Sorry.)

I think, if my own personal anecdata is any indication, the main competition for used book stores isn't Amazon (though Amazon is probably the primary killer of stores selling new books), but free and instant digital media, from classic public domain ebooks to pirated copies of every movie that has ever been made to infinite porn of all stripes to TVtropes and Wikipedia and other time-sucking websites (hi!), all competing for the finite leisure time people might otherwise devote to reading used books. There's just so much else to do, and you can do it all on demand whenever it strikes your fancy.

Compare that to used books: You mean I have to haul my ass to the store, hope they have something I've been looking for (or else scour the shelves aimlessly), and then, on the off chance my search proves fruitful, pay money? For what? The inconvenience? The crick in my neck? That's a lot of leisure time used up before even getting to any actual leisure, which still might not pan out if the book's not up to snuff. And then I have these things in my house taking up space doing nothing but serving as constant reminders of how much money I've spent instead of just checking the things out of the library like a sensible person...ugh. A bookshelf is like a display case for regret. Meanwhile, I've got seven-and-a-half more seasons of The X-Files to Netflix, so...
posted by Sys Rq at 6:11 PM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Mine is now a seasonal Halloween costume store.

At one point, ours was too. It's now a University of Phoenix campus.
posted by bluesapphires at 6:17 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


You mean I have to haul my ass to the store, hope they have something I've been looking for (or else scour the shelves aimlessly),

Speaking only for myself, which is apparently how we form arguments these days, there's always such an enormously long list of books I'm keen to read that I have never had this problem.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:25 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Me too; it's just that a lot of them are free digital files now, so I don't get to the hauling my ass step in the process.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:29 PM on June 16, 2013


Wealthy people shop at used bookstores in the same way wealthy people shop at thrift shops: only rarely, and not for the same reasons the vast majority of not-wealthy used bookstore/thrift shop customers shop there.
posted by davejay at 6:41 PM on June 16, 2013


Mine is now a seasonal Halloween costume store.

Well, before the pub.

It was never a carpet store though, the other weird fate of empty downtown storefronts in our area.
posted by Artw at 6:45 PM on June 16, 2013


mygothlaundry: "The typical customer at our bookstore, if there is such a creature, is an over 60 lower middle class woman. She reads a lot, she likes to trade her books in, she doesn't like the library because there's no parking and she feels they look down their noses at paperback romances of all stripes. "

This brings up a thing I'd like to mention. There seems to be a lot of assumptions in this thread that, by used book store, we're talking about the ones that spring up around universities and have a lot of old hardcovers and, typically, more non-fiction than fiction. There's also a class of used bookstores that I see in smaller communities or suburbs, usually in a low rent strip mall with plenty of parking. This type of used bookstore deals exclusively in pulp paperbacks of mass market fiction. And every time I'm in one, I see customers, typically older women, trading in a stack of pulps for a new stack, basically using the store as a book rental service.

There's no non-fiction section and often no trades. But my gosh is there a lot of romance! And Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum. And if you get lucky, Lawrence Block. (I really like Lawrence Block.)

So there's at least one class of used bookstore that tends to get overlooked in conversations like this one. It's a big kind of classist blind spot that seems to exist. And don't get me wrong, I share this blind spot and, as a holder of a master's in library science, it annoys me as a failure of library outreach or collection management. The stores seem to be doing well though.

davejay: "Wealthy people shop at used bookstores in the same way wealthy people shop at thrift shops: only rarely, and not for the same reasons the vast majority of not-wealthy used bookstore/thrift shop customers shop there."

When I had a well-off parents who supported my book-buying ways as a child (Best present ever! "Here's some money kid, but you can only spend it on books.") and when I made a comfortable income, I would shop used bookstores because there is no new book dealer that can match the depth of a used bookstore's collection. Except Amazon, of course, but that's a recent phenomenon. One copy of many books is far deeper than many copies of one book and, compared to even a small used bookstore, there's just So Much More Stuff than in a new bookstore.
posted by stet at 6:50 PM on June 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


For me, the local library has been the killer of my book-buying. I buy books, but only if I've read them first.

I also follow Adama's Rule.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:53 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just opened in Madison, WI
posted by eenagy at 7:57 PM on June 16, 2013


St. Sorryass: "blockbuster or whatever, half of the "thriller" section was bad Cinemax soft porn."

I can personally attest to this fact. I still have my "Not every video that we stock has been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, and the ones that weren't will have 'NR' after the title in brackets on the box. Had this particular title been sent in for a rating, I believe it would have fallen into the hard side of 'R'," speech memorized, and it's been over a decade since I worked there.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:05 PM on June 16, 2013


Yeah lady, fuck your dreams!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:09 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


#26: Don't do your own bookkeeping if you cannot handle basic arithmetic.
posted by Renoroc at 8:12 PM on June 16, 2013


If your dreams are unreasonably anachronistic as a business plan, well, not fuck them, but don't blame the public for not supporting your plans.
posted by spitbull at 8:27 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Independent bookselling is a shrinking trade. Ebooks are taking a chunk of the market, and Amazon is a massive competitor. It's too bad her store is closing, but she's kind of snotty, and doesn't sound like a brilliant business person. Most booksellers are snarky about customers; it is, after all, retail. But bookstores and the people who frequent them are special. Sales reps for books are usually well-educated and helpful. Bookstore patrons are usually interesting and often fun to be around. It's a place full of books, which is a lot like saying it's a place full of magic. My town has 1 good independent (new) bookstore left, and they struggle. Buying books online is nothing like the experience of browsing books and discovering authors and titles, or getting spot-on advice from a good bookseller.
posted by theora55 at 9:00 PM on June 16, 2013


I'm seeing this more and more. Maybe it's because Internet commerce has improved over the past few years, or maybe it's because retail service is going downhill..."

The one small bookstore I visit still seems to be all about helping the customer, but the camera store where I get my digital photos printed is like this when it comes to their camera salesmen. I'm sure they know a bit about the cameras they're selling, but if you aren't interested in buying the "extended warranty", they're not really interested in helping you.
posted by blueberry at 9:25 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey mediareport? Nice Price Books (mentioned in your quote) just closed in Chapel Hill, and it probably wasn't for fun. Not saying it's a good thing, just saying it's a thing.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:00 AM on June 17, 2013


This far down in a thread about a struggling used bookshop and no one has mentioned Black Books?

For shame people, for shame.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:48 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Who is likely to buy books? A high income college graduate

How many independent bookstores are there? 'Two decades ago' there were more than 4000. There were 2400 in 2002, 1400 in 2009, and almost 1600 in 2012.

Are indie book stores coming back? Maybe; taking up the slack from the disappearance of Borders, and owned by professionals who are making their margin on in-store cafes, merchandise or even wine bars - or sometimes just working by a second job.
posted by jacalata at 1:58 AM on June 17, 2013


I think there used to be a concept called browsing that many people have little patience for anymore.

Someone wrote above:

"If customers ask for something you can find in two seconds and you can't be bothered to point your finger at it, you are terrible at your job."

The thing with used bookstores, thrift shops, vintage clothes, people who deal in used items. They don't have inventories and there isn't a place for everything and everything in its place. Yes, retail all over could be more customer service oriented but a single clerk can not track down every potential book for every customer. I have spent 20 minutes or more tracking down a used book for someone and then had them balk at the fact the book was priced $2.50

People who browse for books are book lovers, if you have some order in your store and decent stock they find stuff. But I've quit buying books for the most part as I think many have. My back log of electronic things to read is immense as is my book backlog but my electronic backlog isn't contributing to my clutter problem.
posted by logonym at 2:07 AM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Funny how few book lovers there are. Who shop in bookstores that is.

I have several thousand books (I'm an academic). I only ever go to bookstores to entertain my kid. I prefer to buy books online, where I can browse their content and reviews, choose from a much broader selection, find truly expert opinions on literature easily, compare prices, and save gas and time. Not to mention search my entire library by keyword in seconds. There is nothing inherently superior about a paper book or a dusty corner bookstore.

Inferior dying technology always has romantic adherents.
posted by spitbull at 4:42 AM on June 17, 2013


Not to mention carrying thousands of books with me in my pocket at all times.

So why do I need this lady who can't do math and thinks her customers are morons again?
posted by spitbull at 4:44 AM on June 17, 2013


One thing I have absolutely fallen in love with during my frequent trips to Vermont is that it seems nearly every tiny town has a gorgeous well-stocked indie bookstore run by very nice and helpful people. Sometimes they even have two.

I tend to search out bookstores new & used when I travel and it's never a hardship to linger, buy, and (often) pet the store cat.

And yes, I use Amazon too.
posted by Kitteh at 5:05 AM on June 17, 2013


I've been a book lover since the age of two. And yes, I frequent used book stores. And independent bookstores. I also use Amazon, and Paperback Swap, and Project Gutenberg. And libraries. I use them all. Because they each satisfy different impulses.

Amazon is almost exclusively for "There is a specific book I know I want and don't have time to hunt for it" or "I want a gift for someone else." (And Amazon.uk is for "I want a gift for my friend in Ireland and want to save on shipping.")

Paperback Swap and libraries are there for "there is a book I want, but I can wait for it, and I don't want it desperately enough to pay for it especially since I spend enough money on books already, seriously". (Project Gutenberg is also for the "I pay enough for books" impulse.)

Used bookstores and independent bookstores are for "hmm, I need a book, but don't have anything in particular in mind, let's see what they've got". They're also good for "tra la la I'm taking a walk and oh, hey, there's a bookstore, lemme pop in and browse."

And yeah, opening an independent bookstore is one of my "if I win the lottery someday" impulses.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:38 AM on June 17, 2013


Independent bookselling is a shrinking trade...It's too bad her store is closing

Just mentioning again that "independent bookstores" and "used bookstores" are two different categories. There's overlap but it's important to keep the distinction in mind when generalizing about the two trades. Also, if you include the folks with scanners selling on Amazon out of their garages and bedrooms, there's been an explosion of "independent bookselling" over the past 5 years, but no one counts those people in the stats.
posted by mediareport at 5:56 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


A lovely piece on bookstores.
The books I buy on the Kindle or in other e-book formats reflect my tastes, and how sad it is to be a prisoner of one’s own tastes, however eclectic.
This isn't entirely true, of course; I have all sorts of people from whom I take trusted recommendations, though we tend to share similar tastes.
posted by jeather at 5:58 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


And just because it apparently needs saying, you can think the business of selling a limited stock of physical books in a small shop in a quaint little town with a cat is anachronistic and still love "books."

Books are at the heart of my professional life. I am an author. I advise other authors. I advise presses on what to publish. I buy books. I am responsible (as a teacher, a parent, and a public intellectual) for other people buying books. I can't afford to be quaint, nostalgic, and anachronistic about books not because I don't love them, but because they are too important to how I make my own living. They're my business too.

I can't recall the last time I received "advice" or a "recommendation" in a bookstore, by the way, that I couldn't have received in far more depth from one of dozens of online communities, friendships, and sources where recommendations for reading materials flow like water from people with far more expertise than some random person with a cat in a shop in Vermont who couldn't possibly have even read all the books in her own store, which amount to an infinitesimal percentage of all the books in print.

There will always be an antiquarian market for anachronistic technology. People will always go on vacation to quaint little towns with quaint little businesses that depend on rich people with disposable income browsing their wares every summer. There is nothing immoral about owning a bookstore, of course. If you can make it work, you rock.

But being skeptical about the future of the trade in physical books through physical stores does not mean one hates books or is anti-intellectual. Indeed, I would say anyone who really cares about the future of publishing and the idea that publishing filters, curates, and authorizes expert knowledge can't afford to be nostalgic about the old days when book-based knowledge was a far more limited and rare commodity.
posted by spitbull at 6:09 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


But being skeptical about the future of the trade in physical books through physical stores does not mean one hates books or is anti-intellectual.

Of course.
posted by mediareport at 6:10 AM on June 17, 2013


Nor, I should add, does countering kneejerk proclamations about the business one is in from folks who aren't in that business mean that one is anti-e-book.
posted by mediareport at 6:12 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Of course.

Plenty of comments in this thread are implying that there is a moral basis for defending the independent (or used) bookstore as an institution and that lack of concern for the future of this institution means you are a Philistine (who probably also hates cats and nice ladies and small towns in Vermont).

There is a major moral case to be made for the free and open and global circulation of as much knowledge as possible, in fact. We make it on Metafilter all the time. The idea that text-based knowledge requires gatekeeping at every level, right down to the transaction that delivers the physical text, is elitist as well as anachronistic. Right now, on Ask Metafilter, I can get better recommendations for books on an obscure topic than I could get at most independent bookstores where the owner/staff are not versed in said topic.
posted by spitbull at 6:14 AM on June 17, 2013


And what, praytell, is "kneejerk" about my perspective, mediareport? I am professionally dependent on publishing. I've spent 25 years working in a publishing-dependent profession. I know dozens of editors and publishers and hundreds of authors. I review half a dozen book manuscripts a year for major presses. My knee is moving in a deliberate and careful fashion.

What is truly hilarious is that we are having this debate in an online forum.
posted by spitbull at 6:16 AM on June 17, 2013


Plenty of comments in this thread are implying that there is a moral basis for defending the independent (or used) bookstore as an institution and that lack of concern for the future of this institution means you are a Philistine

Can you point directly to a couple of those comments in this thread? I certainly would never say anything like that, and completely agree that "there is a major moral case to be made for the free and open and global circulation of as much knowledge as possible."

In fact, that's my job.
posted by mediareport at 6:17 AM on June 17, 2013


Oh good, mine too.
posted by spitbull at 6:18 AM on June 17, 2013


That "kneejerk" wasn't directed at you, spitbull. It was directed at sarcastic comments like this one. And, on preview, I'm glad we're both on the same side. Honestly, I don't know where the hostility in some of your comments is coming from.
posted by mediareport at 6:20 AM on June 17, 2013


Seriously, can you point to any of the "plenty of comments in this thread" you're referring to?
posted by mediareport at 6:27 AM on June 17, 2013


Wow, all I said is like quaint bookstores with cats in Vermont and I also like using online shopping. It wasn't in response to anyone. But somehow that seemed to make me History's Greatest Monster.

(However, I do not frequent book forums. I just don't like 'em, but good for anyone who does.)
posted by Kitteh at 6:33 AM on June 17, 2013


Yeah, I don't see any evidence of what spitbull is apparently seeing in this thread; his defensiveness about used booksellers and his weirdly aggressive attack on "quaint little towns with quaint little businesses that depend on rich people with disposable income browsing their wares every summer" comes way out of left field to me.
posted by mediareport at 6:37 AM on June 17, 2013


(And man, these days it seems like the only thing I do on AskMe is check to see if I can answer any of the book recommendation questions.)
posted by mediareport at 6:39 AM on June 17, 2013


Seconding the request for "link the comments you're seeing," spitbull. Because the meanest comments I've seen are actually the ones attacking this one used book store owner for "not liking her customers much" or "thinking her customers are idiots" or being a hobbyist or being incompetent.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on June 17, 2013


I assume the comments spitbull is seeing are comments like

"people who are delighted that they can carry around the entire Stephenie Meyer oeuvre on their e-reader and never have to visit a locally-owned business again."

Though that's really the only one that caught my eye.

I assume that this bookstore owner is reasonably good -- keeping a small business afloat for 7 years isn't easy -- and is just a terrible writer, because if we took her list seriously, she sounds like someone who looks down on her customers and who isn't particularly good at her job. It's certainly not unimaginable that some small or used bookstore owners are bad at being bookstore owners, and it's further imaginable that this person is one of them. Or that she isn't and just isn't good at gauging her own jokes and audience when writing.
posted by jeather at 6:55 AM on June 17, 2013


This seems to happen occasionally on Metafilter: people who write vaguely jokey blog things online to which Metafilter reacts with a big ol' HDU SIR. I think a lot of people blog in a voice similar to one used to talk with close friends in a dim room over drinks-- lots of purposeful exaggeration, asides, halfhearted jokes, semi-invented gossip, etc. But then there's a contingent of Internet Folks who insist on reading these blog postings as Literal and Factual and Truly Representative Of Everything The Author Believes, No More And No Less.

See also: Giant metal chicken.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:58 AM on June 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


In Dupont Circle, four blocks from this new bookstore & cafe, five blocks from this used bookstore, and one block from this high-end consignment store, people thought it would be cool to open an used bookstore / vintage clothes store. They had a good collection of used books (particularly art books) and in the back, several racks of vintage and more recent used designer clothing. It was called, natch, Kultura.

It was a cool idea, but it didn't work. The rents are fierce in this area. A famous LGBT bookstore had already been forced to close (for economic reasons, not discrimination) several years before.

Other small bookstores in Washington, DC with specialized clienteles have had to close, too, and Second Story Books folded up a branch in Bethesda that was replaced with a high-end consignment shop that, too, closed a few months ago.
posted by bad grammar at 7:13 AM on June 17, 2013


Amazon is Walmart.

Well! You told me.

The thing with used bookstores, thrift shops, vintage clothes, people who deal in used items. They don't have inventories and there isn't a place for everything and everything in its place.

I don't follow this. I've worked a lot of retail. There's a spectrum of exactly how organized your store can be, sure. For instance, alphabetizing: Do you organize titles within authors; do you just alphabetize by author; or do you just keep all the A authors together, all the B's together, etc? But I don't follow the notion that your ability to organize a store is majorly impacted by how the product ended up on your doorstep.

The original comment was responding to a situation where a storeowner (the FPP author) happened to know where a book was located. But I'll go a step farther and say that if you run a store, you should know your inventory. I always did, and I didn't own the stores I worked in. It's not really as difficult as it might seem, if you're working sixty or seventy hours a week in a place—which I have, and which I assume any storeowner is—to have a good handle on what's in stock and where.
posted by cribcage at 7:42 AM on June 17, 2013


I was always a huge used bookstore fan. Back when I had a "real job" I spent loads of cash at them. But then I went all career minimalist, and then stopped buying books and reading the ones I had. Then there was the library. Finally I gave in and started buying used books on Amazon, you know, from used bookstores who sell through Amazon. (Sometimes, I realize they are actually warehouse type things, but many are not. They are definitely not Amazon Central, which assuaged my guilt somewhat, even though I know they're getting a cut.) This was because I knew exactly what books I wanted, and didn't want to buy them new or even try to muck my way through the local used bookstore, which most definitely wouldn't have the obscurities I'm looking for.

In the last few weeks, however, I've become all about PaperbackSwap, because holy cow, looks like I can trade away all my used CDs on sister-site CDSwap for at most $2 in postage, transfer the credits, and get all kinds of awesome in used books. Books I actually want to read. While PBSwap is chock full of middle-aged Christian homeschooley type ladies who read a crazy amount of Amish Romance, there is a goodly number of smarty-pants people who read history books and love modern literary fiction. I have made a huge dent in my Amazon wishlist by using PBSwap.

So, as someone who spent ten years working in a huge used bookstore, and volunteered at a commie bookstore in my youth--both of which I helped close up--I totally think the Internet is part of the problem. I just don't see it as a Kindle thing. Because people like me can't afford Kindles or to buy the books and magazines that come on them. I will always prefer my books in hard copy, if only because they're cheaper and I need some time away from the goddamned screen. But yes, I rarely darken the door of a used bookstore anymore. The financially hurting post office however, is getting more of my money than ever before.
posted by RedEmma at 7:49 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like the sound of PaperbackSwap! Thanks for the tip, RedEmma!
posted by Kitteh at 7:51 AM on June 17, 2013


Oh, a vote against Amazon -

I tried SEVEN TIMES to buy a particular out-of-print book on Amazon, via independent sellers. And ALL SEVEN TIMES, my purchase got cancelled the day after I placed my order because the shopkeeper discovered it was actually sold out and they just hadn't gotten around to de-listing it. Or, Amazon hadn't caught up to the fact that it'd sold.

So fuck Amazon, I'mma look for it in used bookstores because at least I know whether or not they'd have it and may finally actually be able to purchase the damn thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


A famous LGBT bookstore had already been forced to close (for economic reasons, not discrimination) several years before.

Some minor pedantry: If you mean Lambda Rising - the flagship store in Dupont Circle - it was not economics that made them close. (I used to work there.) Deacon (founder and owner) owned the building, so it wasn't rising rent that pushed them out. He told me when I talked to him about the closing that he and his partner Jim had done what they set out to do - make a space in the world for books by, for, and about lgbt people - and, basically, he was tired of working 100 hours a week. I happened to be in DC the weekend the store was closing and I went by to say hello and goodbye; it was surely bittersweet to see the rapidly emptying shelves.
posted by rtha at 8:06 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


the shopkeeper discovered it was actually sold out and they just hadn't gotten around to de-listing it.

That's more a vote against Amazon's Marketplace, which isn't what most people mean when they talk about buying from Amazon. I've run into the same problem. It is a problem specific to Amazon's Marketplace as compared to eBay, because of how seller accounts work on Amazon; but the problem isn't that Amazon doesn't keep up with sales, it's that Amazon doesn't force sellers to keep up with their sales.
posted by cribcage at 8:44 AM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


.

for duthie books, vancouver, 1957-2010. still miss you.
posted by neuromodulator at 9:54 AM on June 17, 2013


Mm, yes, however romance is the best-selling category of books ('largest share of the US consumer market in 2012,' at nearly 17%). If you can't sell people romances, you are fucked.

Are US readers buying their romances in bookstores, though? The biggest bookseller in the UK is not Waterstones but Tesco, because Tesco stock the best-selling titles in the same place people go to buy their suntan lotion and bread. Romances are exactly the kind of mass-market book that is sold as a product rather than a work.
posted by mippy at 9:58 AM on June 17, 2013


One day I hope that the people who use the buggy whip comparison for any business that they think should die because they don't use it, and those who ask 'how is this news?' about any NSA spying report meet and then go off and have a torrid romance somewhere without internet for a long, long time.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:13 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


It sucks to close a business, but it's especially painful to close something that defined a significant part of a community.

I can't even imagine how the owners of my beloved Thackeray's felt when they realized that they had to close. I don't know how they managed to not sob publicly. I certainly cried on the last day they were open.

I was heartbroken. That was THE independent bookseller. In college, then later when Elder Monster was wee, I lived within walking distance and was there constantly. I made friends with the people who curated the sci-fi and fantasy sections, attended book signings, took Elder Monster to Storytime every Saturday morning. Thackeray's was where my customer, neighbor, and friend, Mildred Benson, told me that a story would break the next morning that revealed her as the original Carolyn Keene. It's where I dragged all my nerdy Darkfriends for our Traditional Bookstore Invasion whenever they came to visit. Thackeray's felt like home.

Borders hired the entire Thackeray's staff when they came into town, but it was never the same. Borders never felt like home, and toward the end, it felt like an alien landscape. I keep hoping that now that the coast is clear, so to speak, Thackeray's will come back. I know I'm hoping in vain, but I'm hoping anyway.
posted by MissySedai at 10:31 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's great about Amazon is that they have even less involvement in the local community than Walmart, so when shipping/transit costs get prohibitive (fuel costs amirite) and we finish defunding/gutting the USPS, our local communities will be left entirely without bookstores (and it's starting to look like libraries are next). Well, the biggest impact will be on the communities where people are too poor to buy trendy kindles and whatnot, but who reads in the ghetto lol.
posted by Eideteker at 10:43 AM on June 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


That seems unlikely. If it's too expensive for Amazon to ship you your books with their massive infrastructure and volume it's going to be too expensive for some tiny podunk bookstore to get their books. The books don't, like, just appear at independent bookstores as if by magic. They have to be shipped there.
posted by Justinian at 11:53 AM on June 17, 2013


people are buying Nooks.

Just a hunch, but I don't think it's the Nook that is killing bookstores.

13,892,641 people self-published a book instead of browsing in a bookstore

That's a bad thing?

Oh, come on, people, this is not "A Carefully Written, Thoughtfully Edited Essay Encompassing The Most Important Truths I Have Learned in Seven Years", it is "Some random things that occurred to me while I was moving".

Ah, then it probably should not have been posted.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:18 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I've loved used and indy bookstores since my teens (which is to say, a few decades), and have even worked in a couple myself as a young adult (though not recently). But a saddeningly high percentage (75-80% maybe) of the stores (used and indy new books both) that I have browsed, grazed, and spend altogether too much of my discretionary income at over the years have been staffed by unpleasant, grunting, glowering, glaring folks who made me feel like I had offended them bringing a purchase to the counter.

Now I understand well that the cheer of the chain bookstore store staffer is more likely than not artificial and generic on the rare occasion I need to spend a BN gift card some well-meaning relative has given me for my birthday, so it's not like I am saying indy bookstore staffers should aspire to that. But I sometimes wonder if by just acting like they give half a shit that someone is buying a book from them the average used bookstore might have done better.

I visited two of my old NYC favorites this spring (happy that both were still in business after not having been to either in a few years) and spent quite a bit of time and money in each one; in the musty used store the clerk did not meet my eyes or thank me for my purchase, and literally grunted at me when I handed him the cash; in the trendy indy bookstore, as I approached the counter with a half-dozen poetry and criticism titles, the clerk fixed me with a look that, if he had been a dog, would have prepared me for a serious mauling (and also did not thank me after the purchase was done).

I mean, I don't take this sort of thing personally after 30+ years of haunting such places, but I suspect lots of people do. It's not that store owners and clerks have to kiss my ass, or be clever and funny, but at least act like my coming in and supporting the store matters to them, and don't be too cool or antisocial to say "hi" or "thanks for coming in; have a good day" like any other human member of society.

But maybe I'm kidding myself: maybe Amazon and ebooks would have crushed the majority of indy bookstores regardless. Though honestly, I think the indy and used stores in towns like mine that have stayed in business are the ones willing to sell their stock over the internet as well as in the physical store.

Just wait until your Borders is run out of town by people's indifference to physical books.

This has already happened in the college town where I live (the mall space is now a gym, I believe) though thankfully we do still have two used and one independent co-op new bookstore in business. (And a B&N on the commercial strip full of those forced-cheery folks I mentioned earlier, which I am surprised has stayed in business honestly.) Anyhow both used stores have friendly staff who can and do comment intelligently on purchases I make and seem genuinely pleased to have my business whenever I go in (and are also friendly when I go in to sell books); the co-op new-book store clerk experience as one might expect varies a lot depending on what random share-owner is working a shift.

Sorry for the length. I think a lot about books and bookstores.
posted by aught at 2:02 PM on June 17, 2013


I'm not sure now whether I have some sort of natural immunity to Book Clerk Snobbery or if I have been ridiculously lucky in my bookstoring but I have not ever even once encountered the sort of behavior described in this thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:10 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, then it probably should not have been posted.

So, wait, posts on people's personal blogs have to adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style now? Says who?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:30 PM on June 17, 2013


So, wait, posts on people's personal blogs have to adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style now? Says who?

It's not the style, it's the lack of content. My comment was in response to: this is not "A Carefully Written, Thoughtfully Edited Essay Encompassing The Most Important Truths I Have Learned in Seven Years", it is "Some random things that occurred to me while I was moving".

Be honest. There is little value in that blog post.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:42 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've definitely encountered the Book Store Jerk - a close cousin of the Record Store Jerk. They're definitely out there, and way less amusing in reality than Bernard Black.

One of my best bookstore experiences in the last decade was going to Elvis Shakespeare in Leith. They've got a ton of vinyl as well as books, but even though it's used, it's more on the "curated" side of things than the "piles of random books". The guy behind the counter hit the perfect mix of friendliness vs letting me browse in peace. I didn't even really need any books but bought a couple anyway.
posted by dubold at 2:47 PM on June 17, 2013


I mean, I don't take this sort of thing personally after 30+ years of haunting such places, but I suspect lots of people do.

Oh, I don't take it personally. But I'll walk out of a place where the employees are rude or obnoxious, even once I have picked up some items, because even though it isn't personally directed at me, I still prefer to shop places where people are pleasant and helpful. Especially if I am paying a premium to buy in a locally owned business. It's not limited to bookstores or locally owned businesses, though.

So, wait, posts on people's personal blogs have to adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style now? Says who?

Well, no, but if you post a badly thought out or badly written blog post on Salon, you don't magically get to have no one respond to it being a not very good blog post.
posted by jeather at 2:49 PM on June 17, 2013


What is Open Salon?

Open Salon is a social content site. What, precisely, can you do here? After a quick registration, you can start blogging immediately -- and rating and commenting on other posts, messaging other members, and more. You can also invite other members into Open Salon from your own blog page.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:06 PM on June 17, 2013


It's not the style, it's the lack of content.

same question.

if you post a badly thought out or badly written blog post on Salon, you don't magically get to have no one respond to it being a not very good blog post.

But this isn't Salon, it's "Open Salon." Kind of like Blogspot and Livejournal. It's a Personal Blog.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:09 PM on June 17, 2013


We're reading it on Metafilter, not somebody's personal blog.
posted by jacalata at 5:37 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


[If you really need to debate whether or not a post belongs here, you know where to go. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 5:42 PM on June 17, 2013


I think Amazon is the best thing to happen to readers in a really, really long time

I think Betterworld Books is the best thing to happen to readers and wannabe-readers in like, forever.
posted by Kerasia at 10:30 PM on June 19, 2013


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