03 August 2012

Why are so many bookstores dying?

I am a happy subscriber to Shelf Awareness, a newsletter that arrives in my e-mail daily showcasing upcoming titles, their authors, and articles in the bookish world. While perusing today's edition I noticed that, yet again, another bookstore is closing. Shelf Awareness seems to have a collection of articles that have the same, depressing theme. Book stores that have been in business for decades, with a following of customers and a reputation in their towns or cities, are shutting their doors.

I live in a small town and I can count three bookstores that are within an hour's drive of me. One recently opened, another has to rely on sales of other items to survive, and the other is barely scraping by, and only doing so, because their in a slightly larger town. I have discussed this with a lot of people, and they have all wanted to blame this problem on e-books and people just expressing an aversion to reading. But after some reflection I want to disagree, and suggest that there might be another, more widespread reason.

There are literally thousands of venues that sell books in the United States. I, as a reader, can go to a large chain store, a locally owned business, or even a used book store to get my books. The problem is that there are too many choices, and that some of them are much more appealing than most.

For instance, the used bookstore five minutes from my house is the size of a public bathroom. Maybe even smaller. And no, I'm not kidding you. While her prices are fair her space is cramped and her selection is still limited. In time she might expand, but until then I could refrain from returning for a month or more and still find the same titles there as last time. Other used bookstores are either so out of the way that going there is a special trip in it's own right, or their prices just aren't worth going.

Privately owned bookstores are wonderful, but they are privately owned. I guarantee that most gift cards purchased during the holidays are not from small business. Also, I have never gone into a privately owned shop to see prices that are below the cover price. I'm not completely against private businesses, I'd love to support them, but I'm sure that a lot of my readers are just like me in saying money isn't always limitless.

Chain stores are sometimes the best option. Gift-cards, reward programs, discounts, etc... I know that I can go to my Barnes and Noble, get nearly any book I desire, receive a discount, and walk away satisfied. Not to mention their online services...

Still, the best option has become online retailers. With Amazon and The Book Depository, to name a few, offering cheap books, used books, and free shipping, I can't go wrong. Often I'll save up twenty-five dollars, do a little shopping on Amazon, and a few days later I have a stack of books arriving on my doorstep. You can't go anywhere and get that sort of quality and quantity unless you hit up one good used book place that has an amazing selection.

I suppose I'm not saying there is an alternative to actual books, but I'm saying there are too many options to choose from, and as savvy book buyers, we want the option that is in our favor. I also want to put my foot down and say, no, we can't keep blaming others or the e-book game when a local store goes down.

Do any of you have a preference?
Where do you buy your books?
What's the selection like where you live?
What do you think?

Happy reading!


  1. I live in the Netherlands. In my neighbourhood there are not many bookshops. It is very easy to buy books online, but I still love to select a book on its form, its cover, its weight etc. So I would like more bookshops, but indeed with a "internet"-collection.

  2. You could be qualified for a complimentary $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.


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