Barb and I have always made shopping a big part of our recreation, particularly when we go off on a day trip to the Chicago suburbs or Des Moines. I now realize – looking back on the book-, record- and video stores I have frequented – that we experienced a kind of Golden Age of shopping. It says something that my favorite shop of all time was a laser disc outlet. I would spend about three hours there.
On Father’s Day, we celebrated “my day” and Barb’s birthday with a Des Moines trip – actually, we mostly go to Clive. There’s a fine Half-Price Books on offer – the place where all my enthusiasms have gone to die – and a big, well-stocked Barnes & Noble. I shop at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Oak Brook and Cedar Rapids, as well, and another Barnes & Noble in a different part of Des Moines.
Picking a few things out in the DVD and CD area of the store, taking advantage of a 40% off sale, I noticed no one was at the register – no one around to ask me if I needed help, which I never do (not in a bookstore, anyway). I had noted the same thing at both the Cedar Rapids and Davenport stores over the past month or so. A sales person came back to see how things were going, and I asked about the lack of personnel in this department, apparently chain-wide.
“I used to work with fifteen others,” she said. “Now I’m one of five.”
And it’s a big store.
Those of us who love books need to support bookstores. That sounds obvious, and there’s no question that Barnes & Noble helped drive many indie bookstores out, even pushing Border’s off a corporate cliff. But they are what we browsers have left. I also trade at BAM! (Books-a-Million), who took over the space of a much-missed Border’s in Davenport, and have filled the gap well.
The decline of retail, obviously, is one half of the story, the other half being the rise of Amazon and other on-line ordering options. I am not anti-Amazon. One of my publishers is Amazon’s in-house suspense line, Thomas & Mercer, and all of my books at various publishers have benefitted from the success of my T & M books – none of which are easily found in any brick-and-mortar outlets…as if not selling Amazon-published books will “show them.” As we say in the comics business, “Sigh.”
What can a consumer of books and magazines and DVDs and Blu-rays and CDs do about the apparent slow death of bookstores?
I don’t suggest never ordering from Amazon. I order there a lot, particularly Blu-rays, mostly because Best Buy (where I used to buy my movies) has cut back so far on what they carry. With Amazon and other on-line services, I can pre-order discs and often get guaranteed lowest prices.
The nastiest thing Amazon does, where books and so on are concerned, is give prominence to secondary sellers – who offer used or even new copies at somewhat lower prices than even buying from Amazon itself. Book publishers send out a ton of review copies, and a lot of those freebies wind up as copies available from secondary sellers. When you use that option to buy, you are denying both author and publisher any income.
What do I suggest?
Well, I can share my personal policies, as a consumer of books and more. When I see a book in Barnes & Noble, or any bookstore, I didn’t know existed, that is where I buy it. I don’t look it up on Amazon to see how much cheaper it is. And when I do buy a book (or any media-type item) from Amazon, I buy it from them, not a secondary seller – I want the author and the publisher to benefit, so that more books can happen.
I also buy magazines from B & N and BAM!, unless the title has become hard to find, in which case I subscribe. But I enjoy the little thrill of seeing the new issues of my favorite mags, just as I have since childhood. If the editors/publishers of your favorite magazine request that you subscribe, because it will help them more than newsstand sales, by all means do so.