Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Salon: The State of the Bookstore

I went to the bookstore yesterday. This is not a particularly surprising statement. It is a rather expensive statement but a common one for me nonetheless. My daughter had 4+ hours of dance rehearsal yesterday and I needed to kill time so I went to the Books-a-Million a few miles from the studio, a store I generally don't go to often because it is so far from home. I walked in yesterday and did my usual wandering browsing and was shocked to find that 10 minutes into my undirected meandering, I had exactly zero books for purchase in my possession. The concept was so unusual for me (usually I can rack up a book bill in the three digits in 10 minutes or less) that I actually stopped to examine the whys behind this odd phenomenon. What I decided?

1. I am coming ever closer to my goal of actually owning every book currently published and most of those out of print as well. Okay, really, I discovered that since the major spring lists have yet to be released, I do already own a large portion of the books that appeal to me that are also commonly in stock at the big box stores. I'm sure that I am missing some fantastic books not commonly found on the shelves at the aforementioned stores and I do specifically look for them when I visit small independent stores (which means I look forward to the dance competition later this spring in Asheville so I can visit the great stores there).

2. I used to find different books when I'd browse different bookstores ensuring that I could spread my book buying dollars around fairly evenly. Now the selections are much more homogeneous, even in stores not owned by the same parent company. Even the staff picks seem to be the same. I miss the delight of finding a little known gem tucked on a shelf which I could then go on to push on each and every person I know who reads even one book a year.

3. In line with the Simpson's episode where Marge goes to a bookstore for a reading and has to go up to the fourth floor to find books (the best episode ever, incidentally), bookstores are giving over larger amounts of floor space to non-book goods, leaving fewer shelves for their headlining merchandise. I am well aware that sideline items have a larger profit margin and help to keep bookstores solvent so I can't complain too much but I do miss wall to wall books (well, when not in my own house, which is indeed wall to wall books). Of course, I did eye those leather, stuffed monkey bookends a couple of times before finally deciding against them, but... In the same vein, there's a load of room devoted to e-readers (who knew that BaM was selling Nooks?!) and as a physical book afficianado, this makes me sad. I know it's the future and all, but I'll just wallow here in my Luddite sorrow for a moment.

4. I am developing fiscal responsibility in my old age. ::snort:: This doesn't even begin to hold up as once I put my mind to it yesterday, I spent more than a reasonable amount of money.

Is this the state of the bookstore right now? It seems to be according to my very unscientific observations. And that's a shame. But as mentioned in #4 above, I did manage to overcome everything holding me back and contribute my not insignificant skills toward keeping this one store solvent. Next week I'm sure I'll be at another store, incognito in my bookstore saving role as Super Book Buying Girl. I wonder if the role comes with a cape. After all, all of the retro superheroes have capes and certainly my ideal of a bookstore is rapidly becoming retro.

This is not really meant to be a paean to bookstores as a dying institution because I don't really think they are dying, just changing to suit the times and the technology and while I have no idea what they will ultimately look like, I know I will miss the way they once were (even as I browse and buy in their new incarnation). What about you? What are your bookstore feelings?


  1. We have 2 independent bookstores near me and one box-o-bookstore that's a recent addition (in a former funeral home that held my mom's service no less!). I tend to spend most of my time in the independents in the hopes of helping keep them afloat. As one of them was the first store uptown open after Katrina, I feel responsible.... And I hate hate hate those chain stores. But that being said most of my book buying money tends to go online as no-one carries the books I like nowadays. So I get stuff for the kids or gifts for others at the little guys and stuff for me online (which means I have an enjoyable mailbox!) but I won't go to the chain store as it's a little weird to be browsing fiction in the same spot that mom's urn stood in her funeral and kinda hard to get past that visual :)

  2. I find it often takes me a while to put the first book in my basket. Then the cascade happens. But that first one has a much bigger resistance point.

  3. My husband's made that same observation about bookstores carrying more and more items that aren't actually books. And I've had the experience of leaving a bookstore empty-handed a few times recently. It feels weird.

  4. I almost bought the stuffed cat bookends...sigh...I have to remind my youngest constantly when we're shopping in BAM that we're there for books, not toys. She's usually game though after being reminded a time or two :)


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