Bookstores Suck

No really. At least the ones around here do. Let me explain.

I recently finished Quicksilver (I’ll write the review in as much time as it took me to read it…) and realized I am out of SF to read. Ack! (Currently I’m reading The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, but I have a SF jones right now…) So I loaded up the old Taurus and went a serching for something to read. I have a list of stuff I’m interested and I thought, “Surely I’ll find something…..”….

Hahahaha! First, the bookstore in the mall. Waldenbooks or B. Dalton or whatever is it. Did I mention that it’s small? Really small. The SF section is basically 2 short stacks, front and back. Nothing there. Although the Butlerian Jihad looks interesting, I’m not sure I’m enough into Dune to read it. So nothing there, although they did have a section for Manga. Weird, I though.

So, back in the trusty Ford (unless you count the two, yes 2!, transmissions its eaten…) and off to John’s favorite haunt, Half-Price Books. There’s a reason I don’t go there often, and that’s because they rarely have anything I’m looking for! I think the last time I went in there and found anything was 2 years ago when I found a copy of Declare for $8. Too bad I’ve already read all the Chalker they had, because they had a bunch. But nothing on my list. And nothing by Mr. Kaku either. I think the only chance of success at HPB is to either have no life and spend every weekend combing all Houston-area HPBs (hi John!) or to have a serious book buying addiction where you’ll buy anything, including Fantasy, just so you can say you bought some books (hi John!). So, since John wasn’t with me, I left and headed to:

Barnes and Noble. At least it smells decent inside, even if the coffee costs $7 a cup at the Starbucks. They at least have a decent size SF section. Lots of books there. But, while they have a lot of books, they seem to have a lack of a variety of books by any particular author, except for Tolkien and he hasn’t written anything new in awhile. So the selection is wide, but about an inch deep. They also seem to have a problem with having on hand books 2, 3 or higher of a given series, but not the first one! Hello? Typically you start with the first one! We don’t all buy books irrespective of their series order because we have a book buying habit and we put them in boxes never to be read (hi John!). And I’m not buying hardbacks because they cost waaaay to much. Unless its a special book. Although they did have a small section of Manga. Weird. Upshot: nothing. They don’t even have the SF magazine, and Fangoria and Starlog don’t count. I want something intelligent.

I guess if I was looking for Manga, I’d have had more luck. Why can’t there be a brick and mortar store for Amazon? They have just about any book I want, with the slight problem of not being local so the books have to be shipped. I don’t want to wait, I want it now! I’d love to be able to go online, find a book, order it, then go and get it later that day. This way, I don’t have to worry about my kids throwing the little Thomas the Tank Engines train pieces around in the kids section. Or running up and down the isles yelling and screaming at each other. Oh, and a wider, deeper selection of SF would be nice too for those times when I want to actually browse the books and see what’s there. Anyway, I guess I’m SOL right now. Maybe I’ll go order something from Amazon…

15 thoughts on “Bookstores Suck”

  1. Now, now…bookstores are our friends!

    Personally, and to the ongoing lament of publishers and authors, I usually don’t go to new bookstores. They are much too costly to support my biblioholism. Plus, I tend to like a lot of older, sometimes out-of-print stuff anyway. The beauty of bookstore, though, isn’t always in the hunt, although I admit that finding a book in a used bookstore, whose inventory is constantly changing, is fun. There is also enjoyment to be had from browsing the shelves. Sure, brick-and-mortar B&N might not have that recent SF release in a format you prefer. But what other treasures does it have?

    One contributor to your particular predicament is the state of publishing. F’rinstance, in a SciFi Weekly interview Jerry Pournelle says “Paperbacks aren’t making much money, hardbacks are the only lucrative part of the publishing business.” I don’t doubt it with books selling for twenty-five bucks or more a pop. He goes on to talk a bit more about the decline of the publishing business, like the 5% cap on ROI and the decrease of “good” SF.

    As for HPB, whose gift cards make excellent gifts by the way (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), it can sometimes take a while for a new release to make it to their shelves. Understandable in the after-market, though, isn’t it? I never expect to find a new release, but when I do find one (and in like new condition, to boot!), I am pleasantly surprised. With me, my reading backlog is so huge, I have plenty to tide me over. <Beavis-interlude> Uh..huh-huh…I typed “backlog”. </Beavis-interlude> So, it is rare that I feel compelled to buy a new release.

    In fact, the last new hardback releases I remember purchasing at full price was Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin. I was on a personal quest to finish all Robot & Foundation & related books before the year 2000. I met my goal, even if I did skim through most of Robot City and Robots and Aliens. I do buy other new (overstock) hardbacks from 75 Off Books. And then there was the Costco impulse buy of Quicksilver, which I am fretting about.

    And though I would agree, harbacks are just too damn expensive a purchase for me to justify, I still like visiting the new bookstores just to see what’s new.

  2. Bookstores do suck if you’re looking for a SF book or series – no question about it. I agree completely JP.

    I like them for walking around and looking through though – I like all the various magazines, books in non-SF categories, etc. I also like it for looking for a non-SF book that I just heard about and want to read this weekend, like Band of Brothers or a new Clancy that I know they’ll have because they have 1000’s of them.

    Paperbacks don’t make money? WTF? They cost twice what they did in high school despite all the productivity gains and the reduction in production costs. Somebody sure is skimming from the top. Oh yeah, that would be the book stores!

    Coming from a family that published its own books, I can also say that the antiquated depression era rules that bookstores operate under (a publisher has to buy back ANY book, regardless of condition, that the bookseller returns) does not help.

    I only shop for SF and Fantasy at Amazon now – they always have what I want, even if I do have to wait.

  3. I too like the browsing experience of a bookstore. I just want a better SF section. Which leads me to this question:

    Does SF not sell enough to have a bigger selection? Could you have a speculative fiction store akin to B and N that specialized in SF, Fantasy, Horror, and Technothrillers and be successful? Is their a stigma attached to those genres?

    I’ve seen a number of the small SF stores go under, but would a bigger store with a wider choice be any better?

    Probably not. Amazon is here to stay.

  4. Personally, I do enjoy browsing the stores just in the off chance of finding something. And not always Sci-Fi or Fantasy – random computer books or gaming books, kids books, and a cookbook or two are what I sometimes come across. As for the bigger chains (and I consider HPB a larger chain at this point), I seldom find exactly what I am looking for – but I know of one store near Gamesmasters that always seemed to have a better selection of books just in a smaller package. As for B&N – I go there to see whats big and then I buy it someplace else – but thats me…

  5. Tim brings up a good technique for book shopping, actually. Use one bookstore to get info on the book, then purchase where it’s cheaper. I have used Amazon to get info on a book (like reader ratings, properly adjusted for the Klausner curve) then added it to my wish list so I can pick it up when I see a good copy in the used stores.

    Generally speaking, I find that the higher-priced bookstores (Amazon and neighborhood retailers of new books) have the best selection but the higher prices. Used bookstores have a poorer selection in lesser condition, but the books are half price. Two exceptions to this rule: First, collector’s/antique bookstores are high-priced, usually poor condition books. Second, overstock bookstores like 75 off Books have the worse selection but the best prices (75% off and no book over 5 bucks. Which, by the way, is a huge warm fuzzy when you get a new condition computer book valued at fifty bucks for a fiver.)

  6. Hey, we here at Dumpster Side Films actually made a short film about how bookstores suck, entitled “Bookstores Suck” We ran across your post here and thought you’d be interested in seeing it. http://www.dumpsterside.com

    Check it out Check it out Check it out

  7. JP, maybe its a bit late but have you tried Borders books over at Westheimer or just the one on 1960? I really envy you guys, you can find so much joy in just browsing and searching for a book…

    BTW, why don’t y’all post articles like this anymore? Most of the ones nowaday are short stuff referring to other sites — occasionally there’s that one insightful one on SciFi chicks on TV/Movie…

  8. First, I didn’t know there was a Borders on 1960. Second, Westheimer? Yeah, that’s really close. Only John is commited enough to travel to bookstores on the other side of town. And sometimes in other towns as well…

  9. I have been on most of 1960 and there is not a Borders Books between 290 and 45. There is a Bookstop down a ways, but thats about it. The Borders books in Houston are all south of us. And I wouldnt commit John – just slap him around a few dozen times….

  10. I’m guessing here that Pete is referring to the Barnes & Noble @ Champion Forest. Maybe he is being an anti-bibliophite by insinuating that all brick&mortar store look the same?

Comments are closed.