The sad truth about bookstores today

Last night I went to Chapters, fully intending to spend some money on books. I had a short list of specific books I was looking for, and I figured that I’d be able to find at least one or two of the dozen or so on my list. Such was not the case.

Since I couldn’t find any books I was actually looking for, I just browsed the fairly enormous selection of books they had on hand. I ended up buying nothing.

The reason is this: brick and mortar bookstores do not have handy, book-specific reader reviews or “related” links. Each time I picked up a book, I wanted to read more about it. What did other people think of the book? Were the recipes well tested and reliable? What was the average reader rating of the book? How many people had bothered rating it at all? Were there other books I might like instead of or in addition to this book?

In short, I have become absolutely reliant on Amazon.ca. Not only do they almost always have the book(s) I’m looking for “in stock” (ranging from 1 day to 6 weeks for delivery), but they’ll usually give me a 20-40% discount off the top, package it up nicely, and send it to my door. They also provide a huge amount of additional information about the books from editorial and reader reviews to the ability to “search inside” the book for specific keywords.

The traditional bookstore is utterly doomed. It’s already obvious — bookstores are no longer just bookstores, they’re also movie stores, music stores, random gift stores, magazine shops, and coffee shops. There is absolutely no reason, whatsoever, to go to these places any more. More often than not the books I’m looking for are things I’ve read about on the web, and the web usually includes a handy link to Amazon so I don’t even have to search for it. Click once to read all about it, then click again to put it into my shopping cart.

Amazon is not only more convenient than a regular bookshop, it’s also more useful, more comprehensive, and more responsive. I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone to a bookstore and found what I was looking for. Usually I come away disappointed, thinking “well, I’ll just go order it on Amazon”.

This used to make me sad, but now it’s just how things are. Book selling has evolved. Not entirely in good ways (Amazon isn’t “cozy” or “friendly” in the way good bookstores can be), but in enough ways that the brick and mortar stores are approaching the level of being quaint throwbacks to an earlier, less convenient day.

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14 thoughts on “The sad truth about bookstores today

  1. I feel it necessary to point out that I bought a movie (Crash (2004)) at Chapters which I couldn’t find at the Best Buy we were at previously. I too looked at a bunch of books but didn’t see anything I wanted to buy.

    Also, why is there a sheep in a tub in your sidebar???

  2. I feel it necessary to point out that I bought a movie (Crash (2004)) at Chapters which I couldn’t find at the Best Buy we were at previously. I too looked at a bunch of books but didn’t see anything I wanted to buy.Also, why is there a sheep in a tub in your sidebar???

  3. Never having bought anything on Amazon, and regularly walking away from bookstores with veritable stacks of books, I disagree quite a lot that bookstores are doomed. I just hope that I’m a more typical reader than you are. 🙂
    To explain, for me, the only times I am looking for specific books that I need to have right away is when they’re new releases. I either *know* which bookstores will get them in (usually genre-specific bookstores, or at least stores that have a good collection in that genre), or will occasionally special-order them in advance (if they’re fringe authors). Other books that I will be looking for might never be in stock, but they’ll be amongst a list of literally hundreds of books that I just keep in the back of my mind as “things to eventually get”. These books are the ones that make me enter every new bookstore I come across during my travels (or at least, every new bookstore in Australia/New Zealand and Europe – I’ve learned not to bother when in chain stores in the USA, they all have identical collections) and slowly browse through their entire collection. I usually walk away from that with one or two finds, but more often and more importantly, I’ll walk away with things I didn’t know I was looking for. New Imports, Shiny covers that attract my attention, authors that aren’t mainstream but because of a quirk of the buyer or the local reading public are in stock right there, standing out by taking up space between two authors who usually are shelved next to each other, all the little things that Amazon can’t convey.
    Whenever I have almost run through my to-read stack and go on a buying spree, I’ll pick up all the new “mainstream” releases I’ve been keeping my eye on (seeing them filter in in the “what’s new” sections in the months before), but moreover, I pick up any unknown author that I’ve heard only vaguely mentioned by the group of friends online and offline with similar tastes in books, and start reading the coverblurb. Together with the impression the cover gives, usually it gets put away again within ten seconds, but sometimes it appeals. Sometimes it has quotes by authors on the cover. You learn to read these – they classify subgenres much more accurately than anything else, and are way more helpful than “if you like …, try reading …” lists. You know that if it has a single quote from Baxter, Bear, Brin, Bedford it’ll be okay hard science fiction, but that if it has an additional quote from Robinson, Zindell or Reynolds, you have a true gem. (Now that Amazon often shows back cover images, I guess you can read such there, but really, they should have that in _text_.)
    And truly, clicking is so _slow_. There’s no way Amazon can organize its information in a way that makes things stand out in the same way an unknown cover in the middle of an oft-visited section at a familiar bookstore does.
    If I’m interested in a single author, an Amazon search wins. But if I’m interested in two dozen authors, and might briefly pick up books by another two dozen, I vastly prefer sliding past the shelves.

    *rereads* I don’t know if that exactly conveys what I was trying to say (it’s the first time I tried to put it into words), but I think it at least touches on most of what’s important in real world bookstores for me, and so it’ll have to do.

    P.S. Your comment-spam prevention system doesn’t seem to take into account that people sometimes will spend a really long amount of time writing a comment, as they’ll be trying to figure out what it is they want to say, and will be doing other things in between as well. 🙂

  4. Never having bought anything on Amazon, and regularly walking away from bookstores with veritable stacks of books, I disagree quite a lot that bookstores are doomed. I just hope that I’m a more typical reader than you are. :)To explain, for me, the only times I am looking for specific books that I need to have right away is when they’re new releases. I either *know* which bookstores will get them in (usually genre-specific bookstores, or at least stores that have a good collection in that genre), or will occasionally special-order them in advance (if they’re fringe authors). Other books that I will be looking for might never be in stock, but they’ll be amongst a list of literally hundreds of books that I just keep in the back of my mind as “things to eventually get”. These books are the ones that make me enter every new bookstore I come across during my travels (or at least, every new bookstore in Australia/New Zealand and Europe – I’ve learned not to bother when in chain stores in the USA, they all have identical collections) and slowly browse through their entire collection. I usually walk away from that with one or two finds, but more often and more importantly, I’ll walk away with things I didn’t know I was looking for. New Imports, Shiny covers that attract my attention, authors that aren’t mainstream but because of a quirk of the buyer or the local reading public are in stock right there, standing out by taking up space between two authors who usually are shelved next to each other, all the little things that Amazon can’t convey.Whenever I have almost run through my to-read stack and go on a buying spree, I’ll pick up all the new “mainstream” releases I’ve been keeping my eye on (seeing them filter in in the “what’s new” sections in the months before), but moreover, I pick up any unknown author that I’ve heard only vaguely mentioned by the group of friends online and offline with similar tastes in books, and start reading the coverblurb. Together with the impression the cover gives, usually it gets put away again within ten seconds, but sometimes it appeals. Sometimes it has quotes by authors on the cover. You learn to read these – they classify subgenres much more accurately than anything else, and are way more helpful than “if you like …, try reading …” lists. You know that if it has a single quote from Baxter, Bear, Brin, Bedford it’ll be okay hard science fiction, but that if it has an additional quote from Robinson, Zindell or Reynolds, you have a true gem. (Now that Amazon often shows back cover images, I guess you can read such there, but really, they should have that in _text_.)And truly, clicking is so _slow_. There’s no way Amazon can organize its information in a way that makes things stand out in the same way an unknown cover in the middle of an oft-visited section at a familiar bookstore does.If I’m interested in a single author, an Amazon search wins. But if I’m interested in two dozen authors, and might briefly pick up books by another two dozen, I vastly prefer sliding past the shelves.*rereads* I don’t know if that exactly conveys what I was trying to say (it’s the first time I tried to put it into words), but I think it at least touches on most of what’s important in real world bookstores for me, and so it’ll have to do.P.S. Your comment-spam prevention system doesn’t seem to take into account that people sometimes will spend a really long amount of time writing a comment, as they’ll be trying to figure out what it is they want to say, and will be doing other things in between as well. 🙂

  5. For what it’s worth, the logic behind my total disinterest in buying random books (ie: any book I’ve never heard of before) is this: I have a limited amount of time left on this planet, and a limited amount of money to spend. I have zero interest in wasting time and money on crappy books when there are already more good books in existence than I have the time to read.

    Why would I waste time on some random bit of drivel (of which the vast majority of books are) when I could instead be reading something actually worth reading?

  6. For what it’s worth, the logic behind my total disinterest in buying random books (ie: any book I’ve never heard of before) is this: I have a limited amount of time left on this planet, and a limited amount of money to spend. I have zero interest in wasting time and money on crappy books when there are already more good books in existence than I have the time to read. Why would I waste time on some random bit of drivel (of which the vast majority of books are) when I could instead be reading something actually worth reading?

  7. Sander: I think our shopping methods differ. I almost always buy books based on recommendation. Occasionally, I will pick up something random, but it’s rare. I think I buy more tech-related books than fiction these days anyway. Usually if a book doesn’t grab me in the first few chapters, I put it down and rarely return to it. I feel shame.

    Rehpic: I’m certainly familiar with dria’s “Sheepy”… amusement. I don’t think I’m comfortable with calling it a “fetish” though. 🙂

  8. Sander: I think our shopping methods differ. I almost always buy books based on recommendation. Occasionally, I will pick up something random, but it’s rare. I think I buy more tech-related books than fiction these days anyway. Usually if a book doesn’t grab me in the first few chapters, I put it down and rarely return to it. I feel shame.Rehpic: I’m certainly familiar with dria’s “Sheepy”… amusement. I don’t think I’m comfortable with calling it a “fetish” though. 🙂

  9. I guess what enables me to buy as I do is that I still have enough spare time that it’s not a big deal when a book disappoints – reading time has been steadily declining though, so I can only hope that that’ll last – and that so many of the gambles have been proven worth it. The vast majority of what are now my favorite books have been picked up ‘at random’. (Yet I do agree that most books are drivel… I guess I’m just lucky with avoiding the worst of it.)
    Consequently, I also recommend far more books than are being recommended to me.

    *is totally unaware of the significance of the sheep in the bathtub, but having recently spent a year in New Zealand, can greatly appreciate it all the same*

  10. I guess what enables me to buy as I do is that I still have enough spare time that it’s not a big deal when a book disappoints – reading time has been steadily declining though, so I can only hope that that’ll last – and that so many of the gambles have been proven worth it. The vast majority of what are now my favorite books have been picked up ‘at random’. (Yet I do agree that most books are drivel… I guess I’m just lucky with avoiding the worst of it.)Consequently, I also recommend far more books than are being recommended to me.*is totally unaware of the significance of the sheep in the bathtub, but having recently spent a year in New Zealand, can greatly appreciate it all the same*

  11. Personally, I haven’t been in a bookstore in ages. That’s becuase I work in a library, and can get all the books I need there. 🙂 And when we don’t have a book I want, I can get it through interlibrary loan, or even get it ordered if I think it’s one we should have ourselves.

    I’ve toyed around with the idea of (sometime in the distant future) putting RFID chips in all our books, to make checkout and shelving and shelfreading (ordering them on the shelves) easier. It occurs to me, though, that if we were to do that, we could also then have little handheld things that would see what book you’re looking at and download blurbs and reviews and info of the internet. You’d get the best of both worlds that way: easiness of browsing combined with easiness of information-getting.

    Of course, having said that, my way of choosing books to read is to watch what comes in as I’m discharging and pick out anything that looks interesting. And since it’s a library, that works just fine. I don’t think I’ve actually bought more than a couple books in the last two years.

  12. Personally, I haven’t been in a bookstore in ages. That’s becuase I work in a library, and can get all the books I need there. 🙂 And when we don’t have a book I want, I can get it through interlibrary loan, or even get it ordered if I think it’s one we should have ourselves.I’ve toyed around with the idea of (sometime in the distant future) putting RFID chips in all our books, to make checkout and shelving and shelfreading (ordering them on the shelves) easier. It occurs to me, though, that if we were to do that, we could also then have little handheld things that would see what book you’re looking at and download blurbs and reviews and info of the internet. You’d get the best of both worlds that way: easiness of browsing combined with easiness of information-getting.Of course, having said that, my way of choosing books to read is to watch what comes in as I’m discharging and pick out anything that looks interesting. And since it’s a library, that works just fine. I don’t think I’ve actually bought more than a couple books in the last two years.

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