Why I'll Never Shop Online For Books Again

I love a good bookstore.

I know I’ve talked about that here before, but I really, really love a good one. Heck, I even love a bad one. If there are books in piles and a cash register somewhere that will let me exchange a swipe of my plastic card for some dusty pages held together with fragrant glue, I’ll happily spend a few hours holed up there.

How can you not love a bookstore?

Well, apparently, it’s possible. I don’t really understand a lot of this guy’s argument. I have a hard time understanding crazy-talk, after all. I’m a fairly sane person or like to think so, anyway.

This person joined the cacophony of voices this week decrying Amazon’s latest “great sale” idea: Go to an independent retailer, scan their item so Amazon can collect price information, then receive a 5% discount from the Internet Goliath for walking back out of the independent retailer and purchasing said item from Amazon.

Sounds pretty sleazy, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought, too.

I can safely say I won’t be participating in this “bargain” for a couple of reasons.

One, I like shopping in local stores.

Two, I have a soul.

Three, I haven’t knowingly given Amazon a cent of my money since April of 2010. Okay, that article is a little dated and skewed at this point, but I don’t care. I still refuse to shop there. And it boggles my mind that other people, especially people I count as friends and family AND who have heard me go on and on and on about this issue, do shop there, with regularity even.

I love bookstores.

No, I don’t think you understand.

I really love bookstores. When Borders closed this year? I wrote them a love letter, complete with shout-out to my local store in a p.s.

I can’t imagine my world without them. They fulfill every cliche in every story for me: an oasis in a desert, a calm port in the storm, a street lamp on a cold, misty night.

But I’m starting to seriously fear for those hallowed aisles of clutter and dust and the sweet-scents of aging glue and paper (which is a lot of why bookstores smell so good). Last I read, there were fewer than 2,000 independent bookstores in the continental USA*.  That’s fewer than 42 per state. That might seem like a lot of bookstores but when you think about the size of some of our states, take into consideration the major metropolitan cities (*cough*NYC*cough*) that seem to have a lot of indie bookstores and then the places you’ve lived or visited that lack any form of bookstore, you’ll realize it’s really not that many.


Already I’m reduced to trolling the internet for bookporn. Thank God there are some great tumbl blogs devoted to it already. Have you seen the many that revolve around Ryan Gosling and his “love” of various literary and cultural things? If you haven’t, you should. Look, I’ll even give you some links. They are epic.

So make me a promise, okay? Go check out the awesome blogs on tumblr that revolve around books. And love them. But get up off the couch and go to a bookstore too.

I’m not even saying you have to put away that awesome ereader Ryan Gosling obviously got you for whichever winter holiday you celebrate – or just because he thinks you’re fabulous enough to deserve one.

You don’t have to!

You can get ebooks from a lot of indie bookstores too! Did you know that!? It’s true!! My indie bookstore sells ebooks. A lot of indie bookstores sell ebooks. If you didn’t think that yours did, or you haven’t seen a sign proclaiming this glorious information, GO ASK AT THE DESK.

This is the true beauty of a bookstore. There are people there, and they are paid to help you in a variety of ways. They can answer your questions like, “Do we sell ebooks through our website? Yes we do!” They can recommend books to you and probably really like doing so. They can also point you in the direction of other fun small businesses you might enjoy like a local coffee house or great bar where you can take that great book you just bought and read it for hours on end without interruption.

And that’s really the goal, isn’t it? Reading in comfort for hours without interruption. I think my entire future will forever be interrupted by the fear that bookstores might disappear.

That’s why I don’t shop at Amazon, and why I’ve been red in the face since reading about their discount.

I’ve also tweeted about it a lot.

And maybe ranted a little via blog posts…wait a second.

*I have to be honest: I can’t remember where I read this factoid so it might not be 100% accurate. But here’s a really cool map of independent bookstores around the country. You should look and see if there’s one near you!

Photo is my own.

  • http://www.facebook.com/YOpinksushi Yoko Moonstar

    Oh wow! When I originally heard the story about that amazon app it turned me off to Amazon a little bit but this post really opened my eyes. I mean, why not buy the book (or other product) while you’re in the store? YOU’RE RIGT THERE! Is saving that .50¢ really worth it?

    • Rachael Berkey

      THANK YOU! That’s what I say!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002663130638 Kerry Alsheimer

    Glad to hear from someone else who appreciates the smell of books.

    • Rachael Berkey

      If it were a bottled perfume (which I hear is in the works from a big-name designer) I would totally buy it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1829596118 Sky Weiler

    Rachael, thank you for your words. My husband owned one of those indie bookstores. He could tell anyone what book they were looking for, even when they walked in saying “Ummm, it’s like a blue book with some chicks name in the title.” He was loved by his customers, even got great reviews online. But his bookstore died. With the economy in South Florida, he couldn’t keep the store going. Rent was too high and Kindles and Nooks won. We now have all of the beloved books in a storage facility where we will probably lose them since we can’t afford to pay for the unit. All he ever wanted was to have this bookstore in a nice place. He wanted to give local artisans a place to show their work, a place for people to come and discuss ideas and have book clubs, A place where he could share his love of books with others. Sadly his dream died. I hope your writing can help save some of the other indie bookstores out there. Bless you.
    Kindles and Nooks will not break down in landfills like a book will. If you light a Kindle on fire it won’t keep you warm in an emergency. A book will never run out of batteries or crash in the middle of a story. And really, what little kid wants to see a tiny screen at bedtime, when it is so much better to sit in Mommy or Daddy’s lap and look at the big beautiful illustrations in a book.
    ’nuff said

    • Rachael Berkey

      While I agree with everything in that last paragraph of your comment personally, I have to admit I read a great op-ed piece in the NYT a few weeks ago (and the SAME DAY on the SAME SUBJECT in the WSJ) on the benefits of reading ebooks to kids and how it’s providing another avenue to connect with children over reading and get them excited about reading and literature. Not for me personally, but I’m glad to see it’s not necessarily discouraging kids from reading, you know?

  • http://www.facebook.com/RuthCurry Ruth Curry

    The indie bookstore I run with my friend sells ebooks! We’d love some Hello Giggles girls over there: emilybooks DOT COM.

    • Rachael Berkey

      YES! I love it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisrmiller Elisabeth Miller

    Oh, this was perfect. Rachael, I think you read my mind. It used to be that everyone was afraid of the big box stores and now those seem to be in trouble. I don’t mind going to a Barnes & Noble – they employ local people. I just moved and haven’t found any local bookstores nearby yet, but I love them. I’m broke as can be, but I’d rather buy a book at a local bookstore than on Amazon (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book on Amazon, although I have bought other things). Also, there are these things at libraries, so I can buy the one book at the local bookstore and check more out at the library…

    • Rachael Berkey

      I hope you find some indie bookstores soon. :) And the library is always a great option.

  • http://www.facebook.com/estranged7 Chiara Beaverhausen

    You really made my mom and me two happy people, sharing the link to the book seer website. Thank you 😀

  • http://www.facebook.com/msjoanthomas Joan Thomas

    As I understand it, Amazon’s promotion EXCLUDED books. See: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/12/amazon-local-bookstore/

    Amazon is after much bigger fish than indie bookstores. I’m a librarian. Readers want great stories in print or electronic purchased from indies or giant online retailers or borrowed from libraries. This really isn’t a moral decision. It’s about content and convenience.

    I’m not sure why we fetishize bookstores. Libraries provide much better options for FREE. Have you borrowed an ebook for your kindle, nook or iPhone? Try it…you might like it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001185247241 Jennifer Richie

      I loved books so much as a kid that my parents would eventually have to rip them out of my hands. I would ride my bike to the local book shop and peruse the aisle and take in all the colors and wonderful books. Eventually though, due to not having my own income at 10, and my parents lack of funds for my obsession, I would pick up a stack of books at the library to devour and then return. (Libraries are wonderful, Joan. They make books accessible to everyone!) But I still loved to visit the local bookstore.

      That changed in the mid 90s when I was in high school and Borders/Barnes and Noble arrived. The very bookstore you wrote a love letter to was instrumental in closing many local independent bookstores. When I was 10, the price on the cover was the price. Five years later, it became that minus 25-40% off. Amazon learned the trade of discounting books from large bargain booksellers like Borders. Watch YOU’VE GOT MAIL, when Fox Books was laughing at pushing out the little guy with their discount prices and mass purchasing power, they weren’t portraying Amazon, they were portraying Borders/Barnes & Noble.

      And while at first I thought the idea of Amazon giving people 5% for buying the product at their site instead of the store they scanned it in sounded horrendous, after taking a second, I realized they didn’t come up with it. It’s a price match guarantee. Most stores you can walk into with an ad and get it matched, and sometimes discounted off that price. Amazon you can’t go into, so you can scan to show them the price. Like Joan said, it wasn’t even on books. They were competing with Best Buy, Target & Wal-Mart over toys and electronics.

      Amazon also has an option where people can self publish and sell their books that maybe otherwise would have never had the opportunity. Which, I’m sorry, is awesome.

      Had Amazon (or even giant Borders) been around when I was 10, I would have had plenty more books on my shelf that I could have gone back to because my parents would’ve been able to afford more. With people struggling as it is to buy anything these days, if they’re spending their money on books, and being able to do it even more so because they can afford it, that isn’t soul-less. That’s how they’re getting by. While I think you are coming from a good place, take a moment and think about how others might not be in your situation. Saying you have a soul, thereby implying those who shop at Amazon don’t, is a bit harsh.

    • Rachael Berkey

      I love libraries. I use my local one regularly, and getting a new library card is the first thing I do when I move to a new place. I don’t have an ereader currently, and frankly find reading on my iPhone uncomfortable, so I haven’t borrowed an ebook from a library. That being said, it sounds like a great thing to do. If I get an ereader any time soon, I would totally utilize my library. Until then, I’ll keep borrowing books from the brick & mortar library.

      I hadn’t read the Wired article so thank you for the link. I am fine with admitting I haven’t read everything on this issue. I’m also open to reading more about it and taking other opinions into account. But from what I have read, I have little respect for Amazon’s business practices even if they are “normal” in terms of price comparisons. It feels malicious to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulianne Pauli Fw

    I thought your post was very touching. I also have a love for books and it broke my heart to see Borders go. Supporting local business is something that I try to do as much as possible. For example, I’d rather buy my morning coffee from my local shop. Their house blend and pastries will always be better than anything I could find at Starbucks. My local coffee shop will have what I want everyday. However, I haven’t been very lucky when it comes to my local bookstore. They never have what I want in stock and I’m not trying to get my hands on something impossible or a collector’s item. Just last week, I wanted to buy a copy of “To Kill a Mocking Bird” to give to my niece as a gift. A paperback copy would have been just fine. It wasn’t in stock. Then, I proceeded to asking for a couple of Stephen King’s books like The Shining and Pet Sematary to no avail. The lady at the counter was very helpful and offered to order it for me. The estimated arrival time would be 7 business days. I couldn’t wait that long. So, I logged on to Amazon and all the books were there. I could buy more books, get the free shipping and since I live in WV, in a town not too far away from one of their fulfillment centers, my order arrived within 3 days, with the free shipping deal. I feel really bad ordering online, but sometimes if I need to get a book I want, that’s my only option.

    I totally agree with you on the Kindle and Nook devices. I got one for my birthday this year and I only downloaded from the free books section on Amazon. I didn’t like it. It’s just not the same. I also love flipping through pages and after finishing a good book, there’s no better feeling than finding a place for it on my shelf. That’s something that an e-reader will never be able to give me. It’s priceless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=554176790 Katy Johnson

    In my town alone, I think there are at least three (maybe 4 or more) independent bookstores. Our town is REALLY into local businesses and it’s part of our culture. If you ever want to live in Colorado, come to Fort Collins, your fellow book lovers would love to have you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003069219004 Justine Harpley

    Can a kindergarten teacher read a giant e-book to her class? I loved those giant story books that my teachers used to read to the class – Booh Amazon!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ColdFallingRain Karla Marie Piñeiro

    Sadly there is not a single book store near where I live. However every year after Thanks Giving a local woman hosts an used book fair at the park. There you pay the entrance fee of one used book per person and you’re free to browse dozens of boxes of books. And the best thing is that you can take as many as you like! So I give one book and take like 20 home every year, which is pretty sweet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002180626897 Jeanet Rodriguez Martinez

    I absolutely agree with your article and can totally relate. Great article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1223701659 Zoë LeDuc

    thank you thank you thank you for the link to indie bookstores! there is nothing that makes me happier than shopping for books.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hoggenstein Tim Hogg

    First of all, to say that you cried about Borders when you have Amazon hater dread, that is just wierd and wrong. Borders was just like Amazon, minus all the retail space and non-discounts. Look, I get that you want to be seen reading something prolifiic in a bookstore in the hopes that mr. now will come walking in and be blown away but what you are doing… but that is what Indy coffeeshops are for! Amazon will never be able to sell the experience of a good coffeehouse, so I think you are safe there. I like – LOVE Amazon for one reason– it’s cheap. Think of it like this: when you do meet Mr. Now and take him back to the hipster studio of yours– instead of there being just one book for you to show off you will have several because you saved so much money than giving it to these indy stores like borders? Also, think of it this way– by buying MORE books, you are supporting MORE WRITERS and less people who work in bookstores.

    • Rachael Berkey

      Actually I read for my own pleasure, not just to attract “Mr. Now.” My library is prolific enough that exchanging beer & pizza for moving help no longer cuts it with my friends. And while I regularly frequent indy coffee shops, sometimes I like to switch it up and hang out at a bookstore with a cafe and support not only the writers who sell their books there but the people who work there too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1401008330 Jericha Soriano

    Thank you for letting us know about some really cool blogs. I fell in love with Bookfessions. I’m going to do the 50 Book Challenge. I know it’s a bit late since it’s the end of 2011 but I’m always in search of books so I thought it was perfect for me!

    • Rachael Berkey

      Good luck on the challenge! I am so intimidated by those kinds of things!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=512291989 Emily J. Lowther

    Love books myself (and it seems I am in good company). I adore those indie bookshops. And every year I make the rounds of all the booksales for charity… but I do shop online (bookdepository.co.uk – just recently bought out by amazon). Primarily because… well… I live in Australia. Where the cost of a new book oscillates between $20-$35 each. As a student, that is clearly ridiculous when I can get the same book for $8 on bookdepo. I will fork out the extra for an Australian author/publisher, and those indie stores often get a lot more money out of me than I planned (plying me with caffeine always works) – but it’s safe to say… BookDepo is my literary saviour. Maybe it will forever be one of those issues where I clamp my hands over my ears and go “LALALA” to drown out any guilt…. sorry…

  • http://www.facebook.com/beautyofthelake Linda DuLac

    Some of our family are in love with their Kindles and keep trying to buy me one as a gift. They doesn’t understand why it’s not the same. I can’t turn the pages (on screen doesn’t count), and I can’t feel the page edges which are sometimes rough like they’ve been torn (which I think is cool), nor can I get the author to sign it if it ends up being a favorite and I’m lucky enough to run into them. :-) I recently got a tablet and I reluctantly put the Kindle app on it to see if I thought it was all that, I didn’t. However, I must admit I have a hard time finding books I like and while I sometimes visit our local used bookstore, I mainly check books out from the library. I hate lugging home a bunch of books only to get through the first page to realize I don’t like any of them. I have found the Kindle app on my tablet to be a real lifesaver for this as you can try a sample of almost every book. I could never read an entire book on an e-reader though, it’s just not the same! Besides for the ebook prices I couldn’t convince myself it’s worth it for something I don’t get to actually hold in my hands!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1343714653 Abigail Chance

    as i sit here at work in my local indie used bookstore (i have the best job evah!), i just have to throw in there that we sell some of our books online and on amazon to supplement our brick and mortar store’s income. we often obtain rare or valuable books on subjects that not everyone walking in off of the street will be in the market to buy, and making these available online (through amazon, as well as our own website) to those who may be seeking them helps keep our struggling business alive. of course, amazon takes its cut, but for a bookseller to turn their back on selling on the web or making ebooks available seems like a potentially dangerous choice to make. just as libraries are also starting to embrace the inevitable ebook, we too realize it’s important to keep up with the changing trends and stay relevant. you gotta do what you gotta do!

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