Saturday, 17 June 2006

With Mostly Books moving ever closer to their 1 July launch, I have been thinking about my own book-buying habits. I live in a town that is blessed with branches of two of the big bookshop chains, Ottakar's and Waterstones (one will no doubt disappear once the Wottakars merger goes through). We also have a large W H Smiths, and several smaller independents. So why do I actually buy most of my books from a certain online behemoth?

I lived in the US for several years a few years ago. We lived then within a short distance of both a huge Borders and a huge Barnes & Noble (there were no indepents particularly close to us). I found myself buying most of my books from those two, rather than from the American online behemoth. Why the difference?

It's not a matter of price. I am fortunate to have a well-paying job, and I can afford to pay full price for books if there are good reasons for doing so. I see 2-for-3 offers as an excuse to pick up a book I might not otherwise read, if there are two that I actually want. Buying online in the US would have been a cheaper, but I didn't do it.

I think that it is in part to do with where and when I learn about books that I might want to read. My main sources, apart from personal recommendations, are the Review section of theguardian on Saturdays, the Arts and Books section of the Independent on Fridays, the London Review of Books (alternate Fridays), and Open Book on Sundays on Radio 4 (when it's not being to up itself about popular fiction). What these have in common is that they appear at the weekend. What with all the other things that have to be fitted in to the weekend, I find myself deciding what books I would really like to get hold of on Sunday afternoons.

Now I tend to be a bit of an impulsive shopper. If I decide that I want something, then I want it now, or as close as possible to now. If I put an order in to Amazon on Sunday evening I will usually get a package through the door just before I go to work on Tuesday, and can look forward to reading the contents that evening.

If I decide to go the bricks and mortar route it takes much longer. Because I work normal office hours, and I am a little too far from the middle of town than makes a lunchtime trip convenient (I cycle to work, so would have to cycle into town and back), I can only get to the local Ottakars in the evenings or at the weekends. Except that they close at 6:00pm, and I can't always get there by then, and even if I can, having entered the shop I don't want to be rushed. Which means that I can only get in there at the weekends.

Back in the US the bookstores stayed open until 10:00 or 11:00pm, so I could go almost whenever the urge took me. Add to that the coffee and buns, and I could go, buy, and read a few chapters in quiet comfort.

So, Nicki and Mark, if I lived in Abingdon, the best way to get me to buy all my books from you would be to open in the evenings. Given all the demands on you as you start up, I rather suspect that you didn't want to hear that...

I must just add that my first thought on seeing the photograph of the future Mostly Books (at the top of this post), my first thought was that it looked just like a bookshop. A particular bookshop in fact. Black Books. I look forward to seeing how far the resemblance extends on the inside.


Kate R said...

if you do the big names, go for barnes and noble rather than amazon. they're nicer to their employees. Or so I hear.

around here, four bookstores have gone out of business and now we have to drive miles and miles to go to a bricks and mortar. bah.

Alex Bordessa said...

We're lucky in York - we have a Borders. That stays open till at least 9pm, and does indeed have a coffee shop. So if we get the urge to pursue or browse for a book after work, it's a pleasure.

Mark said...

Mmm, evening openings (and Sunday openings for that matter). Something that we have thought about quite a bit in the last few weeks as opening date approaches...

We've decided that - as we are not in a 'primary retail location' (shop-speak for a bit out of the way) we will start off opening fairly standard hours, and then try to work out if there are particularly slow periods during the week that we can swap for the odd evening or Sundays.

It's a bit chicken and egg - "if you open, they will come", etc. And asking for feedback is fraught with difficulties (all depends on how you phrase the question). But our feeling is that initially opening one or two evenings in the week may offer enough flexibility to entice those in your position Stephen to make the trip over going online.

Once people know that you are open regularly until 9pm on a Thursday evening (for example), they can make a trip part of their weekly routine (that's the hope!)

Anne said...

As a publisher, I too am a bit perturbed by the takeover of Ottakar's. They have a very friendly approach to buying at a local level, and very supportive of local author's, much more so in my experience than Waterstones who only buy from you through the distributors Gardners, if you are not a huge publisher.

Annette said...

I have worked in the retail business for years. I remember when they used to close at 5.30pm, and close half day wednesdays! showing my age now! However I must say, you cannot lose by staying open for longer and especially the evenings,maybe not every evening, just a couple of evenings a week would do.Customers would soon learn what evenings you are open, take a nice stroll down to the shop, and if you have a coffee shop, then even better.what a lovely way to spend a nice couple of hours.

Doug Hoffman said...

Yes, please, Barnes and Noble online. They have the right politics -- that's assuming there is a UK branch, of course.

Please head over to my place. Tonight's post is thoroughly autistic -- but I figured that if any of my e-pals could appreciate a weird spoof on James Joyce, you would.

Kate Allan said...

I think there's another psycological aspect to this: it's easier to buy books online because the books and the cash you are spending are all vitual. You don't see the real bill until the end and then it's too late to throw your basket away and start again!

Real bookshops are great for browsing but buying a pile of books I have to carry to the cash desk reminds me how much I spend on books and so I don't do it. I buy one book, or perhaps two maximum.

Gabriele C. said...

For one, I buy more English than German books these days, and that's a lot easier via which has most of the US and UK assortment. Also, bookstores (we don't have big chains like B&N) tend to employ cheap and uneducated personal on a 400€ basis (which saves the employer texes), and I boycot stores where the employees don't know how to spell names of famous authors.

Tony C said...

I live in the same town as Stephen and went yesterday to both Ottakar's and Waterstone's to buy a copy of the recently reviewed biography of R S Thomas by Byron Rogers.

Ottakar told me that they had anticipated no demand so hadn't ordered any from the publisher. Waterstone was so off hand about my taste in poet and biographer that I vowed never to darken their door again - a vow I shall keep right up to the next time I go to their shop.

Amazon just said 4-8 days for delivery, and suggested a couple of R S Thomas collections which I already have to add to my order.

Big book chains OK; Behemoths better.