Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bookstores: Not What They Used to Be

I browse the same two bookstores every weekend, and during the week I usually manage to make one or two other stops at different shops.  You might think that would get expensive...and it used to...but the sad truth today is that I walk away empty-handed at least four out of five times I go to a bookstore.  The bottom line is that there are fewer local bookstores for me to shop at, they carry fewer titles on the shelves, and they all carry pretty much the same limited selection.

So I come home, crank up the Kindle, and if the e-book version of what I was hoping to find is not too ridiculously priced, download a copy and begin reading it - all in just a few seconds.  And take note, Mr. Barnes & Noble bigwig, I said "Kindle," not "Nook."  That means that if you want to sell me a book, it is going to have to happen at a cash register housed in a brick and mortar bookstore.

And I'm not expecting obscure titles and huge author back catalogs.  Those have always been hard to find, often requiring special orders and patience on the part of the buyer.  No, what I'm expecting is to see more of the "big" book titles being released every month instead of four new books that have James Patterson's name slapped on the cover, a few new thrillers by the same old names, and a whole bunch of relatively silly chick-lit titles.  (I get it that a huge percentage of books are sold to females...I do, but do try to remember that some men read more than thrillers.)  Where is all the serious literary fiction that gets released every month?

Why is this happening?  Well, maybe, just maybe, it's because I have to make my way through all the puzzles, toys, vinyl albums, Nooks, greeting cards, and tiny little people crafted to look something like every character from every successful TV show of the last decade before I get to the books.  Bookstore managers, you are fast squeezing books right off the floor, aren't you?

While I'm at it, one last thing: if you are going to bother to carry the new hardcover addition to a long-established series, would it kill you to carry the couple of books that preceded the new hardcover?  If I haven't read those already, I'm probably not going to buy the hardcover first - and if it takes me forever to find copies of the older ones, your flashy new hardcover might be in paper by the time I'm ready for the new one.  But if they are there all at the same time...side by side...I will very likely be tempted to purchase all of them.  Think about it.  OK?

Barnes & Noble, you got what you wished for.  First you killed the smaller bookstore chains in the country, than you killed off the last few remaining big ones.  Job well done...from your point of view, I'm sure.  But now you seem equally intent on driving away serious book customers at the same rate you killed off the competition.  You are really good at creating Kindle sales - and I know you don't want to do that.  We need more titles (better chosen ones) on the shelves, not fewer titles than ever.  


  1. Wow, great post. I was just at a bricks and mortar B & N a few days ago, killing time for 3 hours waiting for someone. I walked out with a green tea and one non-fiction reference book.

    I own a Kindle and use it for the reasons you said, used to have a Nook... but our basic Nook & Nook Color (back in the beginning of e-readers when they were really expensive) both died premature deaths so we switched to Kindle.

    I too was frustrated by the lack of variety in the new release and regular fiction section. I spent most of my time reading cookbooks when there. If I saw a series I wanted to possibly try, they didn't carry the backlist of the author. Very frustrating. They could make the room if they removed some of the gift items, but I guess they are nervous about holding too much stock, but then again, they are a BOOK store.

    Thanks for stating my thoughts exactly. Found you through a bookish friend of mine. We don't seem to read the same type of books on average, but I do enjoy reading blogs outside my "comfort" zone. Hope you have a better experience book-shopping next time.

    1. Hi, Rita. Thanks so much for stopping by the blog.

      Those of us who remember what the chain bookstores used to be, and how they could be found all over the place when there were more chains, feel the downslide particularly hard, I think. B&N complains that people use their stores as showrooms to find new books they can order on Amazon...what they don't seem to get is that they are forcing us in that direction by having such a poor selection in stores to choose from.

      Thank your "bookish friend" for me for sending you my way. I hope to hear from you again. In the meantime, I do have a Facebook page for Book Chase (link is shown in upper right hand corner of the blog) that actually contains a lot of bookish chatter that doesn't make it to the blog, so join us there too. I'd love to have you.

  2. I had a similar experience just this weekend. I was in a town I don't usually visit, with opportunity to visit a used bookstore. I spent over and hour in there and kept recognizing titles of books I love- and already own. It was nice to see a lot of great classics and fiction on the shelves, but I already have most of them, and the sections I would like to browse through more- nature writing in particular- was woefully small. It was disappointing. I guess my home library has become finally complete enough that all the books I'm still looking for are relatively obscure.

    1. I guess, in your case, that's both the good news and the bad news, Jeane. On the one hand, you must have an extensive home library now from which to pick favorites, but on the other hand, book browsing is never going to be as exciting for you as it used to be. Sort of a Catch-22, I guess.

  3. I hardly ever shop at bookstores anymore unless they are secondhand or an independent. B&N has become such a disappointment I never find what I am looking for when I go there. I do order from them online but their stores pretty much stink these days. Makes me really sad because my husband and I used to date nights there and spend hours browsing and finding all kinds of goodies. No longer :(