Bookstores Versus the Internet

First contestant: brick & mortar bookstores

Do you remember the joy of standing in a bookstore aisle, staring at hundreds of books, trying to find some good books to read?

  • Most of the books were turned sideways such that all you could see was the spine. You weren’t choosing the prettiest covers.
  • There wasn’t a number attached to the book to tell you how well or poorly it had been selling.
  • The only reviews of the book were great quotes about how awesome the book was on the back cover, dust jacket, or first pages. You didn’t see an average star rating right beside the title. There wasn’t anything bad written about any book in the store.
  • If you wanted to find a possibly neutral book review, you had to read a newspaper or magazine article. Not just anybody could express a written opinion about the book in a highly visible place.
  • Books definitely didn’t come with any reviews that spoiled the endings.
  • When you picked a book up, it didn’t come with a list of books that other customers had bought. When you brought a book to the front counter, the cashier didn’t set several other books next to it and say, “Other customers who read that also purchased these.”
  • After you read the book, the bookstore didn’t contact you and ask you to review the book. The bookstore also didn’t contact you to let you know when those authors released new books.
  • There weren’t customers standing around in the aisle trying to sell you their used books for less (or even more!) than the list price (plus shipping!).
  • Most of the books were presented side-by-side without any special treatment. We didn’t see the books stacked in some order determined by the bookstore. We didn’t need to scroll through several pages to find the least popular books.
  • We never bought books with dog-ears, cover wrinkles, ripped pages, or any other visible imperfections without realizing it prior to the purchase.
  • There weren’t twenty million books to choose from. There weren’t nearly as many books in any particular genre.
  • The chance of the bookstore freezing or crashing was fairly remote, and if you picked up a virus, it usually went away after a few days and a little medicine. Even if the system was down, you could still pay cash.
  • When the book was in stock, you didn’t have to wait several days for it to arrive in the mail.
  • Every book in the store met some minimum standards. There was a limit to poor writing, the number of typos, poor formatting, storyline issues, etc.
  • The free sample was 100%, not 10%. Just imagine if all of the books on the shelves only had 10% of the pages, and you only got the rest after you checked out.
  • When you approached the register, you found an assortment of fashionable bookmarks. Sure, you can still buy bookmarks if you search for them, but you don’t see them when you check out. You also don’t need one for your e-reader.
  • If you had a question, or when you checked out, you interacted face-to-face with a person.
  • You probably didn’t have family members, friends, and acquaintances begging you to read and review their books.
  • There was a slim chance of meeting a cute someone in the bookstore (a plus if you preferred to date people who actually read books).
  • Many bookstores allowed you to take a break and drink coffee. The next time you order a book online, see if they will deliver some coffee to you while you’re browsing.

(Why was this written in the past tense? Brick and mortar bookstores haven’t completely died out yet…)

Second contestant: online booksellers

Let us not forget the wonders of technology:

  • In the old days, you wouldn’t buy a book wearing just your underwear or pajamas (or less). If you did, maybe reading would have been much more popular…
  • You don’t need to go to the bookstore on your lunch break. Traffic won’t cause you to get there after the store closes. You can buy books at two o’clock in the morning, if you please.
  • You can have the book delivered right to your doorstep. There is no need to leave the house.
  • If you have an e-reader, you can even purchase an e-book at two o’clock in the morning in your underwear without leaving the house and start reading the e-book right then and there.
  • People who are addicted to cell phones or who love using laptops and PC’s can browse for books on their favorite devices, and even read them that way as e-books.
  • You don’t have to find a dictionary if you read an e-book. It’s right there on the device. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone will take a moment to find out what the word means…)
  • Millions of books are in stock or will be available in just a few days. There are now print-on-demand books that are always available.
  • With twenty million books on the market, there is a much improved chance that the book you’re really looking for actually exists. If it doesn’t exist, nothing at all prevents you from becoming the author to write and publish it.
  • Through self-publishing, authors have much more freedom in what to write and how to write it, which provides greater selection to the reader.
  • You may be able to buy the book for less used. Some books sell for just a penny plus shipping and handling.
  • You can resell your used book after you read it to recover some of the cost.
  • All e-books mark themselves; you don’t need a bookmark. The e-readers will even let you highlight text.
  • It’s very easy to find the top-selling books, and to see how well or poorly a book has been selling, in case you wish to judge how popular a book is.
  • Read customer reviews to see what other customers had to say about the book. Some opinions may contradict one another, some may be helpful and others not, some might not even be pleasant, and it might be entertaining. You can even vote on how helpful the review is (or you can ignore the wording and just vote on whether or not you like what was said).
  • It’s very easy to ship a book anywhere in the world; e-books can be gifted.
  • You don’t need to find your receipt to return the book.
  • Adults books can be read with greater discretion as e-books.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volumes 1 and 2)

3 comments on “Bookstores Versus the Internet

  1. You can’t argue with the price and convenience of e-books and on-line shopping (well, you might argue with the shipping), but they can’t replicate the atmosphere of a good book store. I hope we’ll continue to have both for a long time.

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