Monday, August 1, 2011

Bookstore loyalty

Everyone else seems to be writing a post about the imminent closing of Borders, but I figured I'd stay away from it. I wrote a post earlier in the year when Borders filed for Chapter 11 wondering what affect this would have on other brick and mortar bookstores, but after that I don't have too much more to say about the company. Honestly, I'm not loyal to a particular bookstore, especially one of the big box stores. Growing up through college I used to go to Barnes & Noble because that was the bookstore that was closest. Eventually I went to Borders more often because there was one near my office. The experience and the products are identical, so I went to whichever store was closer and I had a coupon for. Until I got my Kindle I hardly bought books from Amazon, because I'm impatient and wouldn't want to wait for the mailman to bring me my book. Even now, the decision to buy a real book vs. a Kindle book is based on price and how much I want the book on my shelves. I had been planning on buying A Visit from the Goon Squad on my Kindle, till I saw it at Costco for a dollar less. Now it's sitting on my shelf. So clearly my loyalty is to being cheap and lazy over a particular national bookstore brand.

I can't say I've been loyal to independent bookstores either. I'll choose them over going to a big box store, provided I don't have to go out of my way to get to it, but I won't choose one indie bookstore over another. I loved Brookline Booksmith, especially when I lived down the street from them, but I wouldn't forgo picking up a book from Brattle in favor of them. I prefer the indie stores, especially for browsing and getting recommendations, but I still went to the big box stores, even when I lived near the Booksmith. As I said, Borders used to be near my office and I had no qualms stopping there at lunch to pick up something, especially if I had a coupon.

I recently visited both a big box and an indie store: Borders to pick over the remains and see if I could score some good deals (I couldn't really) and Booksmith because I was back in Boston and couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit. Right there illustrates the difference between these 2 book buying experience: I'll go to the big stores for the prices (sometimes) and the little ones for the experience. I was actually also recently at a Barnes & Nobles and I spent a couple hours there, but it was just sitting in the cafe catching up with a friend so that doesn't count as a bookstore experience.

I picked up a couple of books at Borders, but hardly the haul I thought I'd come away with. I almost picked up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but even with the discount it was cheaper on the Kindle and I don't really care if that book graces my bookshelves or not. I seriously considered picking up a Gold Prospectors magazine because it was 40% off and seriously? They make magazines for Gold Prospectors? It even had an old timey prospector on the cover. But aside from awesome magazine and the crazy long line to check out, the experience at Borders was mostly the same as it was when business was in full swing. The people were nice, things were in order (I was there fairly early before the inevitable tornado of destruction came through) but that was about it. Nothing special.

Meanwhile I recently visited the Brookline Booksmith and just loved being in the store. This time I did go out of my way, if only because we were in Boston for the weekend without any real plans, so we decided to wander around the old neighborhood. I picked up 2 more books* off their discount table at a better rate than what I got at Borders. And sadly one of the Borders books I got was also on the Booksmith discounted table. Dammit. Overall I enjoyed the experience much more, wandering around the aisles, searching through the tables for staff picks. And I didn't even make it downstairs to the used book section. Granted the selection is much smaller than a big box place but when they have what I'm want or suggest something I didn't realize I wanted, I don't mind having to go somewhere else for certain titles.

Sorry, I'm getting off topic. The point is I'm sad that any bookstore is closing. I'd be more upset if a local indie store closed than a big chain but either way, less opportunity to browse and buy books is sad. But while I can be sad a bookstore is going away, I can't seem to get worked up that Borders is going away. Sorry. It's not you, it's me.

*If you're curious, here are the books I picked up:
from Borders
The Lust Lizard from Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore
Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore
Shakespeare and Modern Culture by Marjorie Garber

from the Booksmith
Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane
Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde (Which yes, I know I already read but that was as an eBook and this was cheap enough that this physical copy + the e-copy still cost less than the cover price of the actual book. That was my justification anyway.)