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Saturday Book Discussion: Bookstores

Bye bye Borders

RIP Bookstores?

The first time I ever walked into a big box mega bookstore, I was in love. Look. At. All. Those. Books!

Of course, those big box stores soon came to represent the face of Corporate Evil. As we learned in You've Got Mail, big megastores crushed beloved little independent neighborhood bookstores beneath their cloven boots. (An ironic message coming from a movie that was a 2-hour advertisement for AOL.)

You've Got Mail

You think I'm evil. But someday,
a great beast shall arise from out of Seattle,
having seven heads and ten horns,
and his name shall be Jeff Bezos.

Yeah, those shitty little neighborhood bookstores that always had a fucking cat around underfoot and the smell of mold in the shelves? Screw them. Gimme a nice, well-lighted store with a cafe and a decent chance of finding a book I am looking for any day. That is not to say that nice independent stores do not exist. In university towns, it can be fun to go book browsing in specialty bookstores. Ditto major cities -- New York and the Bay Area are full of bookstores that aren't just chains or cat-infested hole-in-the-wall places.

However, finding a good bookstore is getting harder and harder. Borders Books was not the first big chain to fail, just the latest.

Anybody remember these guys?

B. Dalton Books

Walden Books

Crown Books

In my area, the only places left are Barnes & Noble (which is okay, but the nearest one is about 20 miles away and small), Books A Million (which was always a sort of poor man's Borders), and a few lingering hole-in-the-wall used bookstores with fucking cats.

All right, I admit it, nowadays, when I actually buy a physical book (which is rare: ebooks for the win!) I usually order it from Amazon.

Look, that's forty miles I am not driving - think green!

No, really, as much as I dislike Amazon for some of their business tactics, if I didn't order from Amazon I'd still order online. And I'm still going to prefer ebooks to print books for a bunch of reasons.

But I admit, when I am near a Barnes & Noble or some other decent bookstore with a nice cafe, there is nothing like sitting down amidst a bunch of books and taking in the... bookish ambiance.

There is much angst in the bookselling world over Amazon and ebooks. Ebooks, it is inevitable, will become a medium that largely replaces print books. But physical books will never go away, and I predict that in 50 years, bookstores will still be around. But they will probably be tiny and specialized, catering to collectors and other special needs, and most physical books will be produced by sophisticated print-on-demand devices right there in the store. If Barnes & Noble still exists as a company, it won't be one with millions of square feet of retail space in shopping malls across the country.

Do you view the coming demise of (most) bookstores with dread? Do you have a local bookstore you really love? Do you know of any independent stores that have managed to thrive in a world dominated by big box chains, Amazon, and ebooks?

Poll #1863860 bookstores

How often do you visit a physical bookstore?

Often! (At least once a week.)
Sometimes. (Every few weeks.)
Now and then. (A few times a year.)
Hardly ever or never.

Do you think bookstores will become extinct?

No. Too many people like them, they will always be around.
A few will remain, in larger cities, but most are going to disappear.
Yes. None will remain aside from a few small, specialty outlets.

What do you think of Amazon.com?

It is the devil! We can blame Amazon for much that's wrong with the publishing industry today.
Not particularly fond of Amazon, but it's awfully convenient.
Eh, just another online retailer. And sooner or later, the competition will eat them too.
Love it! Super-saver shipping and Amazon Prime all the way, baby!

Previous Saturday Book Discussions.



( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 1st, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC)
My favorite bookstore is one that I try to visit every time I go back home-- Schuler Book's, a Michigan-based independent bookseller, that is as big as Barnes and Noble, and also has a used book section. I think it will be around for a while-- it's trying to appeal to the anti-ebook crowd, while making books more interactive at the same time. And, the used books are decently reasonable. The store hosts lots of book clubs, and has writers come to talk and sign pretty frequently (Debbie Macomber was there just last week, actually, and Duchess Sarah made a stop to sign there once).

I do dread bookstores becoming a think of the past because they've been a very large part of my life so far, but I think as long as they kind of morph with changing times, they will continue to exist.
Sep. 1st, 2012 10:21 pm (UTC)
I really hope that ebooks don't replace print books! I have no desire to read that way.
Sep. 1st, 2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
Same. When the only bookstore in my city went out I was devastated.
Sep. 1st, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
No boostores where I live. I can find lots of second-hand books in a nearby town (25 minutes drive on the higway) but if I want new books, I need to drive about 1 hour... When I buy new books, I usually do it online simply because there is no other conveninent solution for me.
Sep. 1st, 2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
If you'd asked the first question two years ago, my answer would have been the first one. Now, it's the last thanks to crummy public transit and no car. :( I miss going to bookstores dammit! (The library would be a good substitute, but my branch is too small for a good browse.)

I honestly can't picture a future without brick and mortar bookstores. Maybe I'm denying the inevitable, but I hope not.
Sep. 1st, 2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
I buy online from Barnes & Noble when necessary, figuring keeping the company afloat has to help keep the bookstores afloat.
Sep. 1st, 2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
I live near Powell's Books in Portland Oregon. I go in several times a year (or to their Technical Bookstore, a shadow of its former self). They also sell online. For those who don't know of it, it covers a city block (Downtown Portland blocks are 200 feet square) and is several stories high. New and used books are shelved together, and there is a cafe.

That said, I could live with Amazon but I would find it much harder to survive without the Multnomah County Library, reputedly the second largest system in the US next to Brooklyn, NY.
Sep. 1st, 2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
I used to frequent a small local chain called Mr. Paperback. They lost a lot of business to Amazon.com and then Barnes and Noble opened a store here. B&N had a much bigger selection of books, along with comfy chairs and a cafe. I would still stop in at the one remaining Mr. Paperback in the area occasionally but as their business declined their selection got smaller and smaller. They finally went out of business this year. I was a little sad when I read the news, like part of my childhood was fading away.

Now the first thing you see when you walk into B&N is a big kiosk selling Nooks. The store is still busy and I don't think they'll close it any time soon but it seems like they are more interested in selling Nooks and ebooks than physical books.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 01:41 am (UTC)
I was also sad to see Mr. Paperback die. I always was a little disappointed with their sci-fi/fantasy section as a whole, but if I was looking for something new and fairly popular, they had it. They people who worked there were really nice too.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 01:39 am (UTC)
There's no way I could support my reading habits if I bought even a fraction of my books full price from bookstores. I get most of my books from the library, and quite a few from paperbackswap, a book swapping website. When I'm on vacation and happen to pass a bookstore I might pick up a book, but this isn't a common experience.

Still, I'm a big fan of book stores. Want to know why? Birthday presents. Being an unoriginal gift buyer, I usually end up getting someone a book and/or a gift card or some sort. Unfortunately, online retailers like amazon often use services like UPS and Fed-EX over USPS, and these services won't drop packages off at my house when I'm not there (i don't blame them. Crazy people live on my street). As a result, ordering a package is always a stressful experience, as I'm never sure if they'll come in on the two times of the weeks that I'm actually home during business hours. Combine this with the fact that I'm a last minute gift buyer and I end up buying quite a few of my gifts from Books-A-Million. I'd be very sad if they ever closed down.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 01:43 am (UTC)
There are a bunch of bookstores in this area. Several are Barnes & Noble chains, but the independent bookstores outnumber them. I know the margin for books is pretty tight, but the local bookstores seem to have carved out their niche. The one near the mall has a huge section for children's and YA (with a cool playhouse in the middle), and Flights of Fantasy specializes in SFF. I'm not sure about the others, but there are also a lot of used bookstores scattered about.

My favorite bookstore, ever, is Malaprop's in Asheville, NC. They're no big box, but they do a lot to draw people in. Authors, some of them fairly well-known, stop by to sign and give talks. (I went to the Charles de Lint and Charles Vess event, and Sharyn McCrumb lives close enough that it's no bother for her to stop by every couple of years.) I joined their Speculative Fiction book club, back when I lived in Asheville, and they have several other clubs. They also have a coffee shop attached, with all you'd expect from a coffee shop—free wifi, open mic nights, live performances, yummy food. Their book selection was never extensive, but the staff knew a lot about what they did stock. It was there my husband found the Andrew Lang fairy books, and filled in most of his collection. It was there I started reading a lot of my favorite authors, and there I was able to discover I'd never make it through Twilight.

It's not the loss of the bookstore that bothers me. It's the potential loss of such places as Malaprop's that scares me.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 03:13 am (UTC)
If you're ever in SE Connecticut, the Book Barn there (now spread across the original barn, plus the house and a bunch of outbuildings, plus ... is it three more separate-category locations) is pretty amazing as used bookstores go.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 05:05 am (UTC)
For once, living in a more populated area, did not increase my bookstore experience. When Borders went out of business, a B&N 20 minutes away became the closest major bookstore to me, which is sad. I love bookstores, more than I love eBooks. And while I own two Kindles (a touch and a Fire) nothing will ever replace the paper books for me. My dream in life is to have a room with unique shelves in it and to fill it with every kind of book.

However, the small town the I lived in previously, that is still about an hour away from me, there is a Books-a-Million, which I've never been a HUGE fan of, but the town has a sizable one. Probably the same size as the Borders was. However, there's also a FANTASTIC used bookstore in that town that I love and I visit as often as I can. It is very well kept and very well organized and probably one of the best used bookstores I've ever seen.

I hope that bookstores don't die off, but fewer and fewer people are reading. Libraries are suffering immensely. Bookstores are closing in hordes. The paper written word is slowly leaving as people replace it with eBooks. They're more convenient. And while I do love my eBooks, nothing will be able to replace the feel, the smell, the experience of a physical book for me.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 06:37 am (UTC)
I dream of the day I will have the time and ability to visit a bookstore without chasing small children the whole way. (The library at least had the good sense to put in a play area.)

Children's books should always be on paper.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 07:17 am (UTC)
Call me oldfashioned, call me OCD-driven, but I can't get into e-books. I just can't. They make me scratch walls or something. I want my pages, no matter how much they clot up my place, but that way they're serving as wall decoration, self-defence, smalltalk starter, door-holder, paper press, teddybear (I once slept hugging a complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories after a very sad day)... you name it. I *need* my paper.

However, there are almost no small bookstores here anymore, and not because the big'uns ate them. We had one in the block, but they decided to move to a "better" building - where nobody crossed the store, so they had to close down. Before that, they didn't have the greatest stuff to offer and never did anything to promote their shop, the customer service sucked etc., but at least they got a lot of people simply by being present at one of the busiest shopping streets.
All we have left now are some bogger chains in the inner city, which take at least 30-45min to reach. I go there when I'm looking for gifts or pretty notebooks, and when I need to calm down after I've been dragged through clothes shops, but the problem for me is that they don't have a lot of books in English or French, not to think of Japanese.

I'm therefore buying most of my books from private sellers such as myself online. That way we can all get rid of our old stuff for a bit of pocket money (bye bye cookbooks). The same website I use also lists offers from second hand bookshops, which hardly exist in my city anymore (hard to find, unreasonably expensive and unfriendly in case of the biggest store), which I tend to use with caution because private sellers have turned out more reliable.

And if all that fails, there's my beloved bookdepository, which is an online shop, not that big, but with great service and unbeatable prices. I don't know how they do it, but it works.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 08:59 am (UTC)
My favourite bookshop is no more ... along with second and third favourite ... So I just go to the closest one now.

We don't even have those big box chains in this country, but at every real bookshop you can order the book you want and get most of them within three days - as long as you want to read it in German. Start looking for English books and you'll find that most bookshops have only a and but don't know where to get specific ones. That's where Amazon comes in for me. Yes, I could find many of those titles on 'Austrian' online bookshop sites as well, but at a closer look those orders are usually handled in Germany as well, so why bother?

Others will buy from Amazon, because they think it's cheaper. (That's wrong as there are fixed prices for all German books, but they look cheaper on Amazon as being a German site they can list them including German VAT then increase to Austrian VAT when you enter an Austrian delivery address.) And so the bookshops are going.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 12:40 pm (UTC)
I buy a hell of a lot of my books second hand nowdays, just because of the inflated book prices in Australia. $8 for a book? Bargain! So I frequent markets and Elizabeth's (an Australian second-hand book chain), and book sales, and get them for a fraction of what I would have to pay at Dymocks or Kinokuniya. That being said, I often browse at these two, and find myself succumbing a pretty book or two every now and again...

I also buy my books of Bookdepository (which has just been bought by Amazon I think?) - because of the free shipping. They may be a dollar or two more expensive than Amazon, but when you are buying a single book, that is better the $15 shipping from the States. I buy a lot of my comic trades from there for the same reason. 10 dollars less than I am paying in my LCS, and it all adds up.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 02:07 pm (UTC)
Have you tried buying online from QBD? They often have specials for delivery fees where at christmas or if you spend over $60 etc your shipping is free.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
My best friend's boyfriend used to work for them! I am actually not supposed to be buying books anymore, not until I read all the ones I already own...
Sep. 2nd, 2012 02:05 pm (UTC)
I live in Australia, and we're lucky enough to have 3 bookshops survive - QBD, Collins and Dymocks. Dymocks is the most expensive but I love it for the huge literature, poetry and non-fiction sections they have. Collins is about in the middle and generally has the bet range of fantasy novels, and QBD is the cheapest. I'm a regular at all three. Generally if I read an ebook I like, I go out and buy it in print. I cant help myself. My kindle is awesome for travelling to and from uni or when I'm on holidays, but at home, I want my physical books. And all three of the bookshops I mentioned bring something different that I love about them.

We do have a fair few small independent bookshops in my city - there is one that sells only sci-fi and fantasy novels called Pulp Fiction - which are always fun to browse. I find it's much easier to discover something new if you can pick the book up, read the blurb, open it, and take a look at the first sentence.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
I'm in the largest metro in the state and one of the largest in the region and we only have a handful of actual bookstores in the entire metropolitan area, none of which are convenient to get to on any regular basis for me. So my weekly trips are down to only every couple months to my annoyance.

In terms of what we have, ignoring the comic book shops, text book only retailers, and bible stores, we're getting kind of thin on options.

The biggest two players left in the metro are B&N (3 regular, 1 college), and BAM (6 stores, I think). BTW, I refuse to support BAM because they pay their employees crap. B&N hourly employees make more than BAM managers, and have better benefits. BAM has a long history of mistreating their employees too. David Kidd, Borders, and many others had places here, all gone though Google will still tell you that Borders is here.

Outside the large chains, we've got a few private small retailers left. Most are used bookstores, though at least one sells new, and another mixes new and used. Unfortunately my interests aren't covered very well by either of the two mentioned and neither are particularly convenient.

What's sad is my city actually is home to at least four publishing houses, granted I think they're all religious, but we do have a small measure of the industry. We're also a major base in this region for Amazon itself and used to be home to the Border's Distribution Center.

Thankfully we do at least still have libraries. I know where three are in close proximity to us.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
These days, when I buy physical books, it's most likely from (in order)
*A thrift store
*McKay's Used Books

Thrifts because I'm in them so often, McKay's because it's a very well-organized, large store, and BAM because it's my favorite. Most of my life I preferred B&N or Border's, but in high school I moved to a town where the only bookstore was a BAM. Though I've moved since then, it's what I prefer now. I like how it's laid out straight, so I can easily find other people or sections rather than wandering around aimlessly like I do in B&N, and people at the BAM at home are quite nice.

Unfortunately, various-and-unreliable thrifts are the only things close to me right now. Unless it's something that's nigh impossible to get in a store (older copies of books, out of print books, etc), I don't like buying online. Part of the thrill for me is the *buying* and taking home of the book. If I have the money to buy things new, I'd rather just order it through the local BAM.
Sep. 2nd, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
I prefer to have a physical copy of the book so that I can write notes all over and underline things, but I actually don't buy most of my books at giant book store chains. The prices for a new book these days is ridiculous; I found a paperback copy of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter going for $13.00 at Barnes and Noble. I don't necessarily care if big bookstores go under, what about the future of my beloved used bookstores?

I like to use Amazon because more often than not, as Barnes and Noble doesn't have the books I'm looking for. I understand, they want to carry copies of books that they believe will sell, but those are not the books I'm looking for. I actually have a better chance of finding those books at used bookstores. And I like the smell of used books, so. Amazon has a full selection of Angela Carter's books. And for a cheaper price!

Bookstores might disappear, but I don't think that physical copies of books will. There's still circulation, online and such.
Sep. 3rd, 2012 03:28 pm (UTC)
Being Canadian means we have a Chapters in every large city, and usually a Coles in the smaller ones (we have a Coles, never seem to have the new books I want.)
I do buy from Chapters when I'm in the city, always an excuse for Starbucks too.
If it's something I want, and don't want to drive an hour to get it, I order from the Book Depository. Amazingly good prices, and no shipping charges? Why yes, I will keep a wish list 4 pages long.
Tbh, I've never ordered books from Amazon, not when i've got Chapters & the Book Depository to choose from.
Sep. 3rd, 2012 11:17 pm (UTC)
... Well damn. I knew I was lucky to have this many bookstores, but this is a bit absurd.

Reading these responses has been pretty depressing, since I'm in the Bay Area (hurray for me) and we still have a fair number of bookstores, even if we have lost some too. I still miss Cody's, and A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, and oddly enough I miss Borders (more on that in a bit).

My favorites are probably Green Apple (in San Francisco), City Lights (in San Francisco) and Moe's (in Berkeley). They're all huge though - Green Apple has two floor in two buildings, City Lights is three floors and Moe's is five. None of these are really tiny places, they're all institutions. None of these will be leaving any time soon... then again, I would've said the same thing about Cody's and A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books.

Despite owning a Nook (it was a gift), I miss Borders. There was one near my high school, and that Borders introduced me to manga. It was one of our hang out places, one of my first dates was there. As for Barnes and Noble, there are actually none close enough to be worth going to. I'm not going to Emeryville or Colma just for them.

I'm a big library person since my local public library is a pretty huge system and I can get a lot of things I want through there - even fairly academic stuff. The movie section is also amazing - the benefit of living in a dense, urban, linguistically diverse area is the absurd amounts of great foreign film you can get through the library.
Sep. 9th, 2012 05:39 am (UTC)
Ваш опрос занял 90-е место в рейтинге ЖЖ голосований
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