Brenda Cooper

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 Responses so far

  1. 1. Brent Kellmer

    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. 2. M.K. Hobson

    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. 3. Saul Rockman

    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. 4. brenda

    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. 5. brenda

    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. 6. brenda

    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.