Monday, October 15, 2007

why American independents are struggling

Critical Mass, the subscription-worth blog of the National Book Critics Circle, posted this interesting column from Frankfurt. Their discovery: German independent stores are flourishing, and despite a small number of national franchises, independent bookstores far outnumber them. Why?

In Germany, there is a price fix law--if a book costs E25.00 on its cover, that's what you pay for it in the store. Whereas here, what with free trade and all, the ONLY place you are ever possibly required to pay full price for a book is in an independent store.

Not that we can do anything about free trade or Americonsumerism, but it's worth thinking about. Most of us who work in publishing--whether we edit, right, produce, publicize, buy, or sell--don't have oodles of money to throw away, so I bet most of us don't pay full price for all our books. But how much are we willing to sacrifice, and how much to we care about independents?

Do you have a book-buying strategy? I'm not going to tell you mine until I hear everyone else's first. Where do you buy what, and how much of whether or not you determine to buy a book is based on its price?


Conduit said...

The same was true in the UK until a few years ago. Since that time, not only have all the independents closed, but the shops that had book departments have dropped them too.

While you can argue that price-fixing is anti-competitive, it can in some ways harm the comsumer to allow a completely unregulated market. While the big chains may offer a better price, it also means I have to travel to an out-of-town shopping centre in order to browse books on a shelf, and that chain tends only to stock bestsellers from established authors.

I may pay a lower price, but I have less choice. Frankly, I'd rather pay a somewhat higher price to keep that choice. But to the casual reader who maybe buys one book by a household name author every few months that doesn't matter so much.

Lately I've been beginnig to feel that the publishing industry, both in Europe and the USA, is in dire need of shaking up. The glacial pace needs to be done away with, for one thing. Also, if the ratio of books being submitted to those reaching the shelves is so huge, and so many books are still being published, how come I can find so few novels that don't leave me cold? Why do publishers and sellers think that I, as an adult male, either want to read techno-thrillers about mercenaries called Blaze McTesticle, or middle-class navel-gazing tomes about college professors in the throes of a mid-life crisis?

Sorry, rant over. I'll save all my grist for a future post on the matter on my own blog.

Precie said...

Ok. I'll admit it. I'm an junkie. Bigger stock than any brick-n-mortar bookstore I know of. Sells CDs, movies, even drugstore items and groceries, with usually reasonable prices...and free shipping. I'm a sucker for free shipping.

Much as I'd love to support independents, I have to admit I value my $ more.

angelle said...

i try to save maximum on my books. which usually means i wait til barnes sends me its 15% off coupon as it does every month, and i use it in combo with my 10% membership discount and perhaps buy a book that is already 20% discounted to recieve a nice hefty 45% discount. i buy way too many books to afford to buy them full price. i only buy books at full price if i can't help it and i NEED THAT BOOK IMMEDIATELY.

Jill Myles said...

I buy in a bookstore. I confess I love the atmosphere of shopping at a large bookstore. The only 'independent' near me doesn't carry very many copies, so I tend to buy from B&N.

I buy 90% paperbacks, though. So I confess the whole 'deep discounting' thing doesn't really cut into me too much. Most paperbacks aren't discounted much.

I also buy at the grocery store, and try not to buy at used bookstores much unless I'm trying out an author and not sure if I'll like it or not.

Kristin said...

I rarely buy new books b/c I am a struggling small buisness owner. Just doesn't fit in the budget when I have to choose between paying the light bill or having a shiny new book to read. Hmmm, I think I will take the electricity, please.

But when I do get the chance to buy, I don't look for sales, I just look for the books I want to buy. I never buy hardbacks...not only because of the cost, but it is too heavy to hold and read comfortably in bed, where I do most of my reading.

I do buy occasionally from Amazon, but I usually use their Wish List function to remember books I want to buy when I'm at the regular bookstore. Sometimes just looking at a jpeg of the cover and the recommendations of a few people is not enough to convince me to buy it. I want to hold it, read the back, maybe read the first few pages.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm probably the worst at supporting other writers: I almost always read a library copy of a book first and then only buy a copy if I think it's a keeper. And when I do buy a copy, it's usually second hand off Amazon. So I might read 60+ books a year, but I only end up buying four or five.

David L. McAfee said...

I'm bad. Half my books are purchased through a used bookstore here in Knoxville. One quarter through Amazon, and the remaining quarter is purchased through Brick and Mortars, usually Waldens. I think I have bought 1 book from an indie store this year.

Ello said...

I think I'm different from everyone. I love my local Barnes and Nobles. To me that is my childhood store. Growing up in NY, my parents would take me to Barnes and Nobles 5th avenue on special weekends for a special book buying trip. I loved Barnes and Nobles. It is nostalgia. When it became a chain, I was ecstatic. I could go to my childhood bookstore anywhere in the country. I thought it was awesome. But then I noticed the disappearance of the used bookstore on Coney Island Avenue near where I used to live. And another lovely bookstore in Brooklyn that I loved disappeared. And Barnes and Nobles kept popping up everywhere. As I started worrying about how to get books that might be less mainstream, AMazon arrived to handle what the independents used to take care of. The unique and hard to find books I could now go to Amazon or other online booksellers for.

So, this is a long winded way of saying I buy books anywhere I can. Sometimes price is an issue. Sometimes it isn't. Also, bookstores are great for impulse buying. I have a hard time resisting buying books if I'm in a store looking, reading and touching them.

The Writers' Group said...

Trendy clothes, good restaurants, darling bric-a-brac, none of it interests me. Books? I buy them by the armload. Due to budget constraints, I almost always buy debut or second novels and always from my local, independently-owned bookstore. I love the Borders and Barnes and Nobles -- who isn't taken with a beautifuly decorated warehouse stocked with books? -- but the indies need my dollars more.


Anonymous said...

The inner editor is coming out in me:

It's "Barnes and Noble." No extra 's.'

Back to your regularly scheduled blog reading...