Booklust, Is the Romance over or just gaining momentum?

With all the talk about e-books and bookstores closing, I find it refreshing to hear the bookstore in my small town was voted one of the top ten bookstores in North America, by the Globe and Mail (link here). What makes it so refreshing? It’s an independently owned, book nook. A small store in an old building. But that is what makes it so appealing.

Books themselves, have always had an air of mystery, of history, of adventure waiting around the next page. Well at least to me. There is something heady about holding a tome of stories. Maybe it’s the printer’s ink affecting my brain, making me high on print. Or maybe it’s my own imagination, running rampant like a painter high of caffeine standing before a blank canvas, hand twitching in anticipation.

That alone draws me to bookstores and the reverent hush of libraries, but add old architecture with floorboards that creak history, crown moldings that could tell stories witnessed from their lofty perch or just the smell, and I’m chomping at the bit.

Now add a proprietor, Shelley MacBeth, that works tirelessly with her neighbouring independents, food store, clothing store etc., to draw people to the main street and I think Chapters, Barnes and Noble or even the big box store could learn a thing or two.

Atmosphere, that’s what it is all about. Not the dollar. Atmosphere is worth the little bit extra that these store may have to charge because they don’t buy in bulk, they buy in carefully planned and thoughtfully placed merchandise. Oh and the most important commodity? Customer service, something the big box stores accountants feel costs too much.

So congratulations go to Shelley and her staff at Blue Heron books.

What’s that? You seen this before, so where am I going with all this back slapping? Glad you asked.

With the decline in human interaction due to the ease of online shopping, what would it take to get you or if not you, people you know back into the bookstore? What is it that is missing that keeps people buying books online (and I’m not saying online purchases are bad). What is it that keeps them out of libraries (like Zephyr’s, that will be closing its doors because Uxbridge township feels it doesn’t make enough money)?

A writer friend of mine, Tobin Elliott, actually sparked the idea for this blog post with his own about piracy (read it by clicking here). Like him, quite often I will be inspired to buy a book by reading it online through Google Books or hearing about it through blogs. Same can be said about music or movies. My daughters and wife are big I-Tunes users. I have purchased the odd song from them as well, due to an inability to find said song elsewhere. From that, or watching a movie or TV show via Netflix or similar clones, I will be inspired to purchase the actual CD or DVD/Blueray.

So while it is easy to find what you need online, you have to know what you are looking for. Here enters the bookstore or the music store or even the video rental store. Places where you can walk the aisles and be intrigued by the covers looking back at you. You can hear a song playing in the background that catches your ear or, as is the case with Blue Heron and most small businesses, you can talk to someone with a passion for the material on the shelves. Someone that could recommend books/music/movies to you. Someone that can steer you to something different and that understands everyone’s taste is different.

THAT, my friends, is what keeps me going back. A veritable tackle box of lures that draws me in.

Besides having the actual book at my disposal, the tactile contact is reassuring, a grounding in this plane. I think therein lies the rub. I find books real whereas e-books or I-tunes music or even Netflix, feels temporary to me. I’m not saying to give up on them, but I prefer a good old-fashioned hardcover book. Then again, maybe I’m just showing my age.

What is it for you? Do you prefer bookstores over electronic venues? If not,  what would it take to get you back into the store/libraries? If so, what keeps you going back and what would you like to see added to draw more people in?

Sound off. I’d like to hear from both camps.

About Dale Long

Writing ambushed me from the shadows. At first I pushed it aside as nonsense, but luckily my wife and two girls saw the potential. Since then I have had an article published by Metroland, placed as runner-up and in the top ten in humour writing contests and various other contests. The icing on the cake was placing as runner-up in the WCDR's Wicked Words contest (130 entries) and having my entry published in the contests anthology of the same name. My entry was an exerpt from my upcoming novel, Echoes.
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14 Responses to Booklust, Is the Romance over or just gaining momentum?

  1. Lisa Llamrei says:

    I find that the switch to e-books is going to make it easier for me to support my local indie bookstore. When I go shopping for books, I am most often looking for something specific. The small independent bookstore almost never had it in stock and so I would go to the big box store because I wanted it RIGHT NOW. Then, after reading the books, I’d give most of them away because so few of them were worth keeping forever. Now, when I need that certain book right away, I download the electronic version and if it is such a great book that I need it in my permanent library, I can go to the small, local store and wait for them to order it in.

    • Dale Long says:

      Good points, Lisa! The immediacy and availability of the electronic versions is definitely a plus. Also, as a writer with the market as tight as it is currently, E-Books is a very viable option.

      I accept that, but you can’t make me like it 😉

  2. I love hardcovers. I love old paperbacks. I loathe the new, not-a-lot-taller-but-tall-enough-to-irritate-me paperbacks. I love audiobooks.

    I’m really not crazy about ebooks. I’ll read them, I’ll buy them, but damn I prefer holding something in my hands that I won’t have to go charge up.

    • Dale Long says:

      I hear you on the odd sized paperback. It’s funny, I’m OK with my hardcover books being a variety of heights but I have to have all my paperbacks the same size.

      That’s the thing, isn’t it? You pay for something, it should be tangible, not intangible. Thing is I still don’t fully trust computers. Their tendency to crash or be susceptible to viruses. The same could be said about real books, though. They are susceptible to fire and water.

      Still, I like the heft and smell of a real book.

  3. Ruth Walker says:

    Hardcover, paperback — gimme a book in hand. I see them on the GO Train, earplugs inserted, e-reader in hand. They look happy enough with their 1000 books in a flat electronic thingie. They could be reading Tolstoy or The Victoria Secret Spring Catalogue or The Cat in the Hat. Who would know?

    What matters to me is that I can’t eavesread a darn thing on those dull grey screens — the words are not crisp and I don’t have zoom-vision. Nor can I be drawn in by a sexy cover or intriguing title with a fascinating font. I discovered The Life of Pi and Elephants for Water and The Sisters Brothers because those books called to me with their ‘come hither and read’ covers.

    Worse yet, how will I know if ANYONE is reading MY book on their anonymous, mind-yer-own-business sans-cover and page-less thingies? Yeah. I know. Give it up. E-books are here to stay. But I like Lisa’s solution because I confess I have a billion more books than I could read in 12 lifetimes. But first, I’d have to buy an e-reader. Then I’d have to figure out how to turn it on. And those books don’t appear in the thingie by magic. Download you say?

    Nope. Not yet, at any rate. Ask me in a couple of years. Maybe then.

    • Dale Long says:

      AWESOME point! Advertising. Good service spreads by word of mouth. What better word of mouth than a nose buried in an interesting cover with an intriguing title.

      Don’t get me wrong, my marketing strategy includes a concession for electronic print, but I ask you this: what is more exciting for an author, opening a box of freshly printed books or receiving an e-mail that states simply that ones book is now available online.

      At this point, I’ll be honest and say I’ll accept either. I’m not proud, just stubborn.

      Thanks Ruth!

  4. Dave Jones says:

    I love my ereader but have to admit that I love having a book I can leaf through, flip back a page or flip a few pages agead to see how far to the end of the chapter. Plus there’s the smell of a book and the special smell of an old book that reeks of days gone by.

    If I’m reading for entertainment, my ereaqder is fantastic and is very practical for travelling but for serious reading, give me a good old-fashioned analogue book that I can store on a shelf.

    • Dale Long says:

      Hmmm… electronic print, in its many incarnations, the new pulp? Interesting notion!

      Should magazines be wary? Will electronic print revive the old pulp fiction style books? You might be onto something here.

  5. Nate Shenk says:

    Every time I see that a book store is closing down, I cringe a little bit inside and then a part of me dies. Probably a little dramatic, but it makes me aggravated at our technology-crazed society…as I sit here, on a computer. But sometimes I wish I could have been born earlier and experienced the 90s more than I have. I feel like after 2000, it all changed! Anyways, great read and very encouraging for us book store lovers!

    • Dale Long says:

      Nate, I suppose if I think about it, yes Y2K’s influence was more subtle than predicted. There was a definite shift, a step away from traditon.
      My ideal room is dimly lit with floor to ceiling bookshelves filled to overflowing with hardcover books, overstuffed leather chairs, large dark stained wooden desk and strategically place reading lamps. Ok, so it sounds like Sherlock Holmes den, but I’m ok with that.

  6. Diane Dooley says:

    I live in a rural area. I don’t have a local bookshop. I use the local library, I buy online from Powell’s and Abe’s and Amazon. I buy a lot of e-books (LOVE my e-reader!) directly from small publishers. I really do miss browsing in bookstores. I once lived in a city, around the corner from a fabulous bookstore. I would pop in a couple of times a week. I miss that.

    • Dale Long says:

      Electronic media is great for rural areas where a decent bookstore is hard to find. That and, yes, we can access smaller quality publishers that big book chains quite often overlook.
      But there is still no substitute for wandering the stacks of a cozy bookstore. I say it’s like the difference between a picture of a tropical sandy beach and actually sitting on said beach.
      Thanks Diane, this definitely adds to the list of… I won’t say Pros and cons, because, really, when you can get someone to read, this is no downside.

  7. I like both brick and mortar and online sellers of books. I like the immediacy of being able to get a specific book I want RIGHT NOW from online retailers.

    But like you, I like being able to peruse titles, see, touch and smell the books themselves. I like bookstores that have fat sleepy cats curled up in the oddest places. I like the ones with comfy, well-used sofas and cushions where you can sit with your anticipated purchases and a cup of coffee as you relax and read. I like the cameraderie of being in the company of other readers.

    I do think though, that online sellers are finding ways to mimic the “just looking” experience. I stumble across the most interesting books when friends send me links, often times to books that are ONLY available in e-book format. The novella is a great example. They aren’t cost effective to sell in printed format (there’s the accountant talking for you 😉 ) but do wonderfully in e-formats. AS a lover of short stories, I say BRAVO for that win.

    I do need both venues and hope they never become mutually exclusive and overly predatory with each other.

    • Dale Long says:

      I actually think that E-books may be heralding the return of the old pulps. I, for one, don’t see that as bad.
      So we have some pretty compelling arguements in favour of E-books, or electronic print, but the overwhelming consensus is as you said “hope they never become mutually exclusive and overly predatory with each other.”
      I can live with that.
      Thanks Claire!

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