I’m ashamed to say that I rarely go to bookshops these days – in fact I often make a conscious decision not to go. The main reason is that my general purpose for visiting a bookshop (as opposed to wandering in because I happen to be passing) is to buy a specific book and the chances are they won’t have it. Oh sure, if it’s in print, they could order it for me, but why bother? It’s much easier to buy it from Amazon or the publisher online. This is a function of the way bookshops have changed, and the emphasis they place on new releases and bestsellers.
That’s not to say that when I do visit a bookshop I don’t buy anything. I do; I tend to spend a fortune, it’s just that the books I buy are not books I specifically went there to buy. Because I know what I’m like, I try and limit my visits – I spend far too much money on books.
This is an issue for someone like me because so much of what is published today (particularly genre books) is part of a series. Very little crime fiction, science fiction or fantasy is standalone, and an increasing amount of historical fiction consists of trilogies or other multiples. I find it infuriating if, during a browse, all I can find is the third in a series I haven’t read before. No matter how good it looks I won’t buy it until I can read the first two, so I’ll stick them all on my Amazon wish list and in due course buy from them. If the shop had stocked all three in the series they would have had the sales rather than Amazon.
I feel guilty about this because I really do think that bookshops should be supported – I used to love going to Thins in Edinburgh, but they got taken over, so I would make a point of going to Ottakars occasionally. Now I do the same for Blackwells. I don’t much like Watersons – they’re all the same. There is an independent near where I live, but it’s small, doesn’t stock the range of books that would interest me, and didn’t really impress me the few times I’ve been in it.
I wonder if this problem is caused by how I choose to read what I do. Leaving aside library books and the second hand books/out of print books I read, the books I buy split largely into three types:
- those that form part of a series that I am following, in which case I will buy the next one when it comes out, for example the next Lindsey Davis or the next Pratchett
- those that have been recommended to me or which I have seen positively mentioned somewhere, and which I have made a note of, for example that is how I started reading Patrick O’Brian
- those that I buy as a result of a browse and will be either related to something I was looking for, or because they look as if they might be interesting, for example one of the many WW1 histories I have bought over the last year or so.
On the flip side, I never browse online bookstores looking for something interesting. If I’m doing that, I want to be able to hold the book, so all Amazon’s ‘recommended for you’ or ‘search inside’ are a waste of time for someone like me. On the occasions I have browsed there, it’s always been a curiously unsatisfactory experience.