Friday, February 11, 2011
The Decline of the Bookstore
I've been reading a lot lately about the possibility (developing probability?) of Borders going out of business. It makes me feel sad and a little bit guilty, since I used to buy books pretty frequently from Borders, but now it's just so much easier, not to mention cheaper, to buy from Amazon or get them used from Paperback Swap. While most of the time looking at books online is enough, sometimes I do want to look through the books in my hands, actually flip through them. When I was a teenager, I spent countless hours in the fantasy and science fiction section of my local Waldenbooks, and in more recent years I stocked my shelves with lots of manga with Borders' buy-three-get-one-free promotions.
I have occasionally been disappointed by books I have bought online. I wanted to pick up a set of The Chronicles of Narnia and picked out one on Amazon, which turned out to be a huge disappointment: chintzy, thin covers, and they didn't even fit well in their box. Also, when I wanted to own a copy of Double or Nothing by Raymond Federman, which is an utterly spectacular work of experimental fiction, I remember being shocked and horrified at the new edition. The original edition, which I had first read from UIC's library, is hugely dependent on having been laid out on a typewriter. The typewriter font's letters are monospaced, unlike most fonts today, which are variable-width. Suffice to say that it made a huge difference not only in the visual appeal of the text but also the meaning and the literal way in which you read it. I think that was the only book I have ever returned to Amazon, and then I eagerly snapped up a used copy that was the original edition.
I have to say, though, a big reason I go to Amazon rather than pick up at a Borders store is because it is more reliable. I'm almost never picking up a best-seller, so it's hit-or-miss whether something will be in-stock. I was anxious to pick up God's War by Kameron Hurley in a store rather than wait for Amazon to ship it. But even weeks after the book came out, it still was not in stock at any Chicago area Borders. I ended up buying it for Kindle (thank you, Amazon!) because it was both cheaper and gave me that instant gratification I wanted.
Even with Borders' coupons and the Borders Bucks (of which I have $10 right now), it can be tough for me to order from Borders.com over Amazon.com. The prices are consistently a couple dollars higher, and you also have to pay sales tax, so that there is almost no deal that makes it better or even equal to buy from Borders.com.
I know some people deliberately make the choice to buy from small, independent bookstores. Should we now choose to support Borders, rather than buy online, so that we have a local store we can go to? The last several Harry Potter books that came out I bought the first day out by reserving at my local Borders. For future books like that, will we have to have them shipped and wait anxiously by the mailbox for them to come?
Yet even if I say I absolutely want to buy some books from Borders, the next book on my to-buy list is Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. But looking at Borders' website, it doesn't give me the option to see if the book is in stock at any of my local stores. Considering that it's a new book of poetry, by someone who is not extraordinarily famous (seriously, what does Borders usually stock in their poetry section besides Walt Whitman and Billy Collins?) , it probably isn't available at any Borders store, anywhere. Sure, I could call up Borders and request it and have it shipped to a Borders store, but that is in no way more convenient than having it shipped to my house. Even ordering it at Borders.com would be $5.42 (+9.75% sales tax) higher than ordering it from Amazon.com.
How does the demise of the bookstore affect your book buying? Are you worried for Borders, or will you not miss it?