Monday, July 9, 2012

And I Feel a Little Dirty Afterward

So, I went to Barnes and Noble this week. Twice.

I was lonely.

A friend had given David a gift card. I kept getting their constant, invasive e-mails that told me nothing of interest: buy a Nook, buy a Nook, and get a coupon for your Nook. I don't own a Nook, so seldom were there useful coupons for me.

But I needed a bookstore, a bona fide bookstore. I had trolled the thrift stores, come home with piles of books (some I might even read). I was full — but not content.

I like seeing what's new, what is coming up. I like to touch hardbacks, flip through softcovers, peer at the cover, look at the typeface. I like to be surprised: I want to exclaim: a new Vincenzi already? So that's what Mark Haddon's cover really looks like! I want to find a deal, whip out my coupon for the one I want, buy an extra paperback to leave in the car.  I want to participate.

Amazon is cool: great service, fantastic selection, incredible prices. I have gotten rather spoiled by Amazon: no matter what I order, it shows up nearly instantly, exactly what I ordered, well-packaged and well-priced. I'm not adverse to paying good money for a book. I just don't want to get soaked every time I want to read.

I also don't want to be bombarded with what the bookstore values when it doesn't match my values. And I don't value the Nook.

I love my e-reader. My Kindle (another name for a group of kittens: squee!) gives me Internet service when I want it and a book in my pocket whenever I desperately need fiction. But I also have a library of nine floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, nearly full. I have autographed copies of Good Omens, The Eyre Affair and His Excellency, George Washington (to name a few).  And that's where B&N loses me.

I want my bookstore to show me books, not make the Nook the first, biggest thing I have to squeeze past to get to the books. (I do love the keyring hole in it, though — not that I'd use it, but it is a neat design element, for some reason.) I want the book to be celebrated, not the identity of the store. I don't care if it's called Ham Sandwich: if the store gives me what I want, I will remember what/where/who it is and recommend it at every turn. I am loyal. (Ask Borders.)

Then there's the coupon structure. So, I bought a book for "30 percent off (members get 40 percent off)." I had a coupon for an additional 20 percent off a single item. I bought two books. Here's how the coupon was applied: 30 percent off the original price of the sale book, an additional 10 percent off the now-discounted amount of the sale book, then another 20 percent off that discounted price — of the sale book. And here I thought I was buying one book at 40 percent off and the other at 20 percent off. It was a difference of only a couple of bucks, but I felt just a little cheated.

David is a media guy who shops for music and movies. When he saw a Blu-Ray movie for $40, just a single Blu-Ray disc, his head nearly exploded and he refused to purchase it unless I insisted. (I didn't insist.)

I am all for supporting the merchant who brings you what you want. I have purchased books at absurd (to me) prices because it's what I wanted, the store had it and I wanted to keep them in business. Support the source, right?

And yet...

I just don't like the cluttered store with the e-book counter front and center, a collection of "classics" everyone will buy because they think they should read them, a selection of newly released and pop books people will buy, and overpriced movies. I always walk out of there feeling like B&N has taken advantage of me — and worse, with my permission.

Still, I am hungry for books. There are at least three titles I want right now (but must wait until one is actually published). I want to have a bookstore in town on which I can rely. Do I just "let it go" and try to not feel cheated when squeezing past the Nook counter at B&N (where there is no Marge Piercy, ever)? Do I travel 45 minutes into another state to an independent bookstore and pay full price, plus my time? I don't know. But for now, I will try to just relax, enjoy my new books and decide next week when I "simply must get that book." It's not a perfect world, but it's the best we can do.


Richard Goodman said...

Physical bookstores are in aa struggle for their very existence. This is because of the internet vying for people's time and money, the emergence of ebook readers and the fact that people aren't reading as much as before. Every one of your dislikes about the B&N store layout is a response to those issues. Losing book sales to ereaders? We'll make our own reader. People aren't reading as much? We'll draw their attention to to hot, fun books out right now or to the classic they think they should read (which might just enthrall them enough that they do start reading more). Videogames and movies drawing away your business? We'll carry those too and mark them up enough to cover our rent and the expense of having real people as staff to help you instead of a recommendation engine like Amazon. Besides, bookstores (and music stores) have always been about prowling around trying to find a hidden treasure among the obvious and the dreck. I certainly understand the urge to have things done the way I want them but we are at the mercy of the people who don't appreciate books and need to be tricked into buyting more of them. As for your coupon, they are always applied to the lowest priced item. Sometimes you have to "remember" you wanted another thing and get in line and make a second purchase so you get full value for your coupon.

Anonymous said...

hmmm. I too miss borders but not as much as you do. i have always liked b & n not better tha borders but more than books a million or walden books. i still miss the daltons booksellers of my childhood! (i do not know if daltons was ever a national chain or not or if it was just midwest) in the interest of full disclosure part of the b & n appeal for me is the starbucks cafe since the coffee at borders and books a million suck(ed)! b & n never had the music section borders had and since i do not buy movie i couldnt really say i cared. i actually like that they carry so many "classic" books they are classic for a reason and people need to keep reading them for reasons of cultural patrimony if nothing else. i am extremely seriously not happy with the nook kiosk blocking the entry to all the stores and the constant hawking as well but....but maybe this attempt to become an ebook dragon and not just ride the ebook dragon might keep the physical bookstore open. maybe. i hope. i love to peruse books in a store dedicated to them almost as much as i love a good library!

Anonymous said...

Yeah! What Richard said! lol!

Chris said...

Richard, coupons are not usually applied to discounted items. To have it applied to a twice-discounted item was a surprise.

And I've yet to have a B&N employee recommend a single thing. I suspect that's as much my attitude as theirs (though I've only heard employees talking about how much longer until the store closes, I kid you not), but I should give them a chance.

Anonymous said...

well chris if you go to b & n wearing your I MISS BORDERS! (SNIFF SNIFF SOB SOB) t-shirt they won't want to help you. I would actually complain to management if that was the only thing I heard from employees in a retail store. it is funny i practically have to chase them away and tell them i do not need help at the one near me.

Richard Goodman said...

As for the associates, you have to ask for suggestions before they will offer them, 90 out of 100 times. Actually, I rarely ask people for recommendations when I'm in a book/music/DVD place because I generally know more about things than the staffer. I will ask for help with electronics, Home Depot, car shop, etc... but I always size up the person to see if they look knowledgable and friendly. Yes, I profile but I'm generally spot on and get the help I need. And this is coming from a person who hates to interact with strangers.

Chris said...

I'm rather engaging and friendly when I enter a bookstore, any bookstore, even B&N. I never mention the names of other stores, nor do I belittle or criticize the sales staff's store. I don't mope, I don't cry or sniffle. I go in to love books. It's just amazing how many people don't love what they do or where they do it, and B&N in my part of town seems hardest hit by this attitude. We don't have to love our jobs, but we have to care how we do our obs and how we treat our customers.