Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

Leaving me behind

Posted on by arlen

It occurred to me as I was wandering through a local bookshop that was undergoing a management change: the local bookstores have decided, apparently, that I’m no longer a customer worth having.

They were in the process of selling off all the old inventory of the former owner, soon to be replaced with “books we think will sell here,” and I got a sinking feeling in my heart. I suspect I know the kind of books the new owner is going to put there, so I took one last stroll around the place, to say good-bye. Oh, I’ll come back to check out the new inventory, but past history tells me that will be the last time I do.

I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before. The store was part of a local chain that used to be the only place I shopped for books. You see, the books I buy most often aren’t the usual fare, and the flagship store for this chain was the only place in town I could find a reasonable assortment of good chess books; as a reward, I shopped there for all of my books, not just the chess books. (You know, it used to carry newsstand copies for sale of the locally published chess magazine, even; I made sure to honor that practice by buying my copy there, rather than subscribing.)

Then the big box bookstores came to town, and the chain began retrenching. What do you suppose was one of the first things they did? They closed their flagship store, and moved most of the inventory to their other stores. I said “most.” That’s right, they stopped carrying the little local touches I appreciated so much.

It didn’t, and still doesn’t, make sense to me. You’d think I would be right smack in the center of their market. I have over 5000 books in my house, almost half in hardcover. My annual book expense was well into four figures, even in a bad year. In a good one it approached five.

And it wasn’t a matter of competition. Even had I been inclined to switch, the big box stores don’t carry the titles I want. They don’t carry much Arkham House, a local specialty publisher I’m a big fan of as well. The store that carried my faves got my allegiance for other titles, even if I could get them elsewhere, as an honorific for paying attention. But I couldn’t find AH books in the local chain anymore, either. It was like they decided to compete with the big box stores by simply becoming smaller versions of them, as if morphing into a mini-Borders was the only way to compete with the real one.

It’s not like the Big box stores care what I want to buy. When the local chain stopped carrying chess magazines, I went to the big box; they had one (New in Chess — I was also a big fan of Chess Monthly and BCM, but they’ve completely disappeared) so I started buying it there. They sold every copy they ever had on the newsstand, but still they discontinued it. And when Arkham House, a local specialty publisher I’m quite fond of, stopped appearing in the local shop, I couldn’t find it in the big boxes, either. It was as if the local stores decided to compete with the big box stores by simply becoming smaller versions of them, as if morphing into a mini-Borders was the only way to compete with the real one.

Slowly, the magazines I was interested disappeared from the shelves, so I started to subscribe. And it didn’t stop there. I solved the problem of tech books that no one would carry by subscribing to Safari. For chess books, I found I could special order from either store and wait a few weeks, or buy from Amazon and get them in two days, even next day, for the same cost (or less) and without costing me extra in time and gasoline.

I fully expect the new inventory for the local shop will be more of the same. Books I have no interest in. The same books I could find in the big box, just fewer of them. I hope I’m wrong.

What ever happened to “zig when the other guy zags?”

I used to be a big fan of the local bookstores. There’s a couple from Spring Green who would always talk about the “books with the strange titles” (“Wijk aan Zee”, for example) I used to order from their store. But the lack of support I get from the local stores these days has turned me into an Amazon customer. Not by choice, I didn’t get on the Amazon bandwagon until recently. By necessity.

So next time you hear complaints from your local bookstore about how their customers are leaving them for big boxes or online, think of me. I didn’t leave them. They left me.

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