Random thoughts about the book business

I just went to Borders, and bought three books. Two hardbacks, one trade paper.
Charles de Lint: The Mystery of Grace. I know I will like this one. $24.95
Philip Hensher: The Northern Clemency. For a book group. $26.95
Antoinette May: The Sacred Well. I’m a sucker for all things Mayan. $14.99

That was $72.91 with tax. That just seems wrong. It will probably end up with a entertainment cost rate of $5.00 an hour or so, but still, the total bit.

Is this part of the problem? What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Random thoughts about the book business”

  1. I do think it’s part of the problem, but it depends on which aspect of the problem you’re talking about. I think that the era of purely brick and mortar bookstores is over, and that’s probably part of the reason Borders is in such trouble. Ultimately, I think that only specialty stores — the U Bookstore (since it’s got the UW there, plus a lot in addition to the books) and Powell’s can absorb it, but both have also moved online.

    I just checked and I could get the same three books online — through Amazon (but not from Amazon — they all came from independent bookstores that happen to sell through Amazon) for $51.72. No tax, but that includes 3.99 shipping and handling for each.

    Ultimately it is a matter of the cost — stores (like Borders) that are not adapting to changing economic conditions) are always going to lose out to places that people can get them less expensively. They’re the dinosaurs in a mammalian world.

  2. Well, you can always sell the books back and bring that hourly utility rate down a few notches. Powells.com lets you sell them books online now, somehow. I haven’t tried it, since I can go in and sell them books in person.

  3. Buying online and buying in a bookstore are two different experiences and the relative costs of each have to weighed against the perceive benefits. Browsing in a bricks-and-mortar location provides opportunities for serendipity, comparisons, and engaging people who are as interested in reading as you are. Some of us are less interested in “people who bought X also purchased Y” when making an online purchase. If you know what you are looking for and want that item only, then it matters not where you buy — even a used book store (please support them). But if being surprised by a new author, or being attracted by a cover or the weight of the paper, or renewing an acquaintance with a writer whose work you last read in college is appealing, the additional costs is well worth it to me.

  4. I agree. In this case, we were in the bookstore anyway buying the child Manga. I intended to buy the Northern Clemency (or actually, to decide whether or not to buy it real; I thought about getting a Kindle version. I decided to go physical since I’ll be analyzing it for a book group). Charles deLint is the first urban fantasy writer I started reading, and he is thus the authentic voice, like Tolkien in high fantasy (art least for me). And the cover is beautiful. Drop dead beautiful.

  5. Hi M.K.!

    I know. And I might – it’s greener. I bet I keep the deLint, though. It wasn’t about the money so much (I have not given up my day job), but that it just plain surprised me. My head had figured $50 without adding anything up – kind of like I expect to spend $20 a bag on groceries, although they are really more now, too. But if I were earning an average income (instead a slighter better one, plus a little extra from writing), that would have felt like a whole lot.

  6. Hi Brent,

    Thanks for the comparison. Yes, I pay less at either B and N (which has a far better and simpler customer loyalty program) or at Amazon. And Kindle would have been even better – I bought about fifteen books on Kindle last year, and they are truly discounted. I guess part of what I worry about is that prices that high will take casual hardcover buying off the “OK to impulse buy” list in my head. Book costing is a bear and publishers are struggling, too, so it’s a pretty stressed system. I don;t have an answer – I was just surprised. I bet if I calculated my “to read” pile into dollars, I’d be shocked.

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