Where to Shop for Books

There’s been some interesting chatter lately on bookstores and book buying and which chains we should support and so on.  Some authors say independents are the answer. Others champion Barnes & Noble over Borders. I haven’t seen many of us campaigning for the Amazon Empire, but if you check our web sites, you’ll find that most of us have Amazon links peppered liberally through our pages.

So who should get your hard-earned money?  Join me, dear reader, for a rigorously scientific and objective analysis.

Amazon

Advantages: Convenient. Carries pretty much every book known to man, including all of mine! 4-for-3 deal can mean cheaper books and free shipping for you the reader.

Disadvantages: Carries pretty much every book known to man, including Publish America’s entire catalog. Amazon president Jeffrey P. Bezos may be intent on founding First Galactic Empire. Amazon’s “Also bought” program may reveal more than you wanted to know about your readers.

Borders

Advantages: Larger stores means they can carry more books. Stocked my books for a long time after they came out!

Disadvantages: Current financial situation may require $700 billion government bailout.

Barnes & Noble

Advantages: Large stores = more books in stock. Unlike Borders, Barnes & Noble is likely to still be there tomorrow morning.

Disadvantages: Did not stock many copies of my books. Clearly run by evil, shortsighted, goblin-hating losers. Do not shop here under any circumstances, unless it’s to order goblin books and show them the error of their ways.

Independents

Advantages: Freedom from restrictive national corporate policies, making it easier for them to stock whatever they choose, and for me to bribe owners into stocking my books! More likely to have a friendly bookstore cat to greet you.

Disadvantages: Bookstore cat may start peeing on books as he gets older. Store may not have the same acreage as the larger chains. (And yes, size does matter.)

Used Bookstores

Advantages: You can find older books that aren’t stocked in other stores anymore.  Discover new authors for under a dollar.  Wonderful old book scent.

Disadvantages: Creepy dude who spends all day flipping through the vintage Playboys.

Walmart

Advantages: Friendly, smiling mascot.  They carried my last goblin book!

Disadvantages: Mascot is actually the trapped soul of an ancient Guavalarian god, prophesied to return next February to loose his fury on unsuspecting shoppers.

Walmart - Save Money. Live Better ... until Zptsk'ttk' the Destroyer comes for your SOUL.

What it comes down to is that we authors want the bookstores to carry our stuff.  Readers want the stores to carry good stuff.  Bookstores want to carry stuff that sells.  In an ideal world, those three categories would overlap perfectly.  And if you discover that world, please let me know.

Personally, I recommend shopping wherever the heck you feel like it.  I might want you all to shop at Schuler Books in Lansing because they have an entire display of my books, but who cares what I want?  It’s not a bookstore’s job to make authors happy.  It’s their job to make readers happy.

So go forth, find a bookstore you love, and support them.

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  1. 1. Joshua

    Jim, I’m a big fan of Joseph Beth Booksellers. If you’re lucky enough to have one near you. They are HUGE. easily as big as a B&N. But there are only 5 in the country. Check one out if near one in your travels.

    Joshua

  2. 2. Jim C. Hines

    Joshua,

    That sounds exactly like Schulers, actually. They’re independent, only exist here in Michigan, and the stores are easily a match for the B&N and Borders stores. I believe Schulers just opened up their 5th store, too.

    Looks like the closest Joseph Beth store would be a state away from me, sadly.

    But hey, maybe in a few years Schuler Books and Joseph Beth can be the new Borders and B&N?

  3. 3. Kerry

    One more advantage at B&N – they will order absolutely anything you ask them to so long as it is in print.

    You missed a disadvantage of used bookstores, too – the author gets no royalty credit. Of course this is only a disadvantage to the authors, not to buyers.

  4. 4. Karen Wester Newton

    The Booksurge/Createspace maneuver left a bad taste in my mouth. No one likes a bully. But I’m torn because I’m suffering from terrible Kindle-lust and Amazon is the only place I can get one. I know how the Chinese felt when the British Empire forced them to import opium.

  5. 5. Jim C. Hines

    Most bookstores will order anything you want, though not all of them.

    My first draft of the post actually included a bit on the fact that I get no royalties from used book sales … and that I personally could care less. I get a whopping $.48 per book. A few used sales aren’t going to kill me, and as a relatively new author, I’d much rather people be able to pick up my stuff for cheap and try me out. That way, once they’re hooked, they’ll go out and buy all of my new releases. It’s a longer-term strategy :-)

  6. 6. Margaret Y.

    Buy books, buy books, buy books. Buy them wherever and whenever you can. I’ve never understood writers who don’t buy books. You need to support the industry that you want to support you! If you’re not buying them for yourself, then at least buy them as gifts. My kids get invited to their friends’ birthday parties every five minutes or so, and we always buy books for the birthday child.

    In my perfect world, there is an indie bookstore that carries everything I like without having to special order. Since that isn’t happening, I spread my dollars around between chains, indies, and online.

  7. 7. cedunkley

    My book buying habits have changed over time. When I was old enough to trek to the book store on my own I would split my time between walking up Riverdale Ave in the Bronx to a small book store and hopping on a bus to ride up to the Cross County Mall where they had a larger SF/F selection.

    Later on I would go down to the main Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue and then also Borders once they came to town.

    For the past 5 years I was living in lower Alabama during that time 98% of my book buying was through Amazon as the closest book store of any kind was a 45 minute drive and a large book store was an 1 1/2 hours away.

    Now that I’m back in New York I can drive to the nearest Barnes & Noble and go back to checking books out in person before purchasing. I still use Amazon for what the store doesn’t carry, but the bulk of my books I’ve bought at B&N.

    Kindle looks promising, but there is no way I’m paying close to 400 dollars for it. If Amazon was smart they’d give the Kindle away with a purchase of a pre-selected block of e-books. I’d be far more tempted to get one if they did that.

    For example, if Amazon were to give away a Kindle with the complete Wheel of Time purchase (when Tor publishes Brandon Sanderson’s book) I’d probably buy it.

    However, there is a part of me that would be leery of owning a Kindle. If I had the power to purchase any book I wanted at any moment that would be hard to resist.

  8. 8. sylvia_rachel

    Another little-known disadvantage of Amazon (and other species of online book-buying) is that because you can’t physically examine the copy you’re about to purchase, you are more likely to get books that should never have left the bindery because they were trimmed wrong, or contain a couple of signatures’ worth of somebody else’s book, or whatever — and then it’s an extra pain in the butt to return them.

    I always recommend that everyone shop at BakkaPhoenix in Toronto, which combines many of the advantages of various options listed above: they will order things for you, will phone you when something you wanted that was out of stock comes in, have no cat but does have used books, stock (as far as I can tell) almost everything of the SFF persuasion, and have friendly, smiling (and knowledgeable and sometimes writerly) staff. Their only disadvantage is that, well, if you happen not to live in Toronto, the store is not all that convenient ;-) .

  9. 9. Mindy Klasky

    Brilliant post, which I just read out loud to my husband (who laughed along with me.)

    Thanks for making great points, and entertaining us at the same time!

  10. 10. Jim C. Hines

    Thanks, Mindy. With all these insightful and serious replies, I was starting to think I can completely struck out with the silly side of the post :-)

  11. 11. Jim C. Hines

    Can = had, of course. This is why we love our editors.

  12. 12. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Personally I think we should get our books telepathically. Oh! On the toilet paper rolls! hmmmmm. Is it anachronistic if we don’t have toilet paper in our worlds?

    pondering . . .

    Oh, meant to ask you. I have a pinrail map of a ship (where all the lines are hooked to belaying pins). Thought about emailing it to you. Interested?

  13. 13. Zora

    I buy online. For deadtree books, Powells by preference, then Amazon. For used book searches, Bookfinder.

    I increasingly prefer ebooks. They don’t require shelf space and they don’t have to be dusted. Fictionwise and Powells are my main sources.

  14. 14. Marie Brennan

    Diana — if you’re emailing out that map, send me one, too. I have a ship novel I want to write someday.

  15. 15. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Will do Marie. I’ll send it in the next day or so. I’ve got lots of book recs too when you need them. Bet Jim does, too.

  16. 16. rdriley

    One thing you may not realize and may not have considered is that a great deal of people in America don’t have convenient access to a decent brick and mortar store, independent, chain or otherwise.

    For those of us in more … ahem … rural provinces, Amazon, Powells and the like are the only reasonable alternatives to Wal-Mart. We all have Wal-Mart. After that, it gets a bit sketchy.

    Growing up, I was a 2-hour drive from the nearest independent bookstore. My book buying was done at either Wal-Mart or the grocery store, with an occasional out-of-town trip once or twice a year when I’d hit the mall and, glory of glories, Waldenbooks.

    The internet has been more than a godsend for booklovers like me, who can’t afford a long drive every few weeks for book shopping.

  17. 17. kayjo

    I don’t see any mention here of your local library! In these tough economic times I can’t afford to buy all the books I read (about 150/year) so I’ve gotten great use out of the local library and the interlibrary loan system. I can get almost anything I want. I still buy a few paperbacks that I can’t find or to have something to read on a plane but I’ve saved a bunch of money in the last 3 years.

Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.

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