What Are Independent Bookstores Really Good For? Not much.

Excerpt from article at Slate.com

Our attachment to independent bookshops is, in part, affectation—a self-conscious desire to belong a particular community (or to seem to). Patronizing indies helps us think we are more literary or more offbeat than is often the case. There are similar phenomena in the world of indie music fans ("Top 40 has to be bad") and indie cinema, which rebels against stars and big-budget special effects. In each case the indie label is a deliberate marketing ploy to segregate, often artificially, one part of the market from the rest. But when it comes to providing simple access to the products you want, the superstores often do a better job of it than the small stores do: Borders and Barnes & Noble negotiate bigger discounts from publishers and have superior computer-driven inventory systems. The superstores' scale allows them to carry many more titles, usually several times more, than do most of the independents; so if you're looking for Arabic poetry you have a better chance of finding it at Barnes & Noble than at your local community bookstore.

Later in the article is this: Spend more time in public libraries, which offer many of the best features of indie bookshops, including informed staff, diversity, and offbeat titles. Of course, public libraries aren't exactly atmospherically "cool." The clientele is often young children, women over 40, and retired men. I visit five public libraries on a regular basis, and each one makes me feel old. But they deliver the goods.

Read full article: What Are Independent Bookstores Really Good For? Not much.

Comments

Old Lady has her say

You sound like a kid. In fact you sound like one of my grandkids. You put down independents that give you and I quote "... best features of indie bookshops, including informed staff, diversity, and offbeat titles."

I like service when I buy clothes, books or utilitarian goods. Yes I may pay more but there is something to be said for not having to spend time bending down, stretching up, hunting down the step stool, all to find a book that might not even be there.

I don't like going through big box stores looking for a sales associate (underpaid worker) to answer a question I may have and often times they don't know the answer to.

What is wrong with atmosphere, knowing the owner of the store your dealing with, or enjoying a lecture, mystery night, or a reading by the author? Should those things all go away because you want to support a place that is "... atmospherically "cool."

There is one bit of satisfaction I get out of what you say, one day you will be over 40 too.

From your comment, it sounds

From your comment, it sounds like you think Bibliofuture wrote the article. That is not the case. It is just a repost and link to an article on Slate.

It's not a "put-down" when the author refers to the "best features of indie bookshops, including informed staff, diversity, and offbeat titles". It's not a put-down to independent bookstores, nor is it a put-down to public libraries. "Informed staff, diversity, and offbeat titles" are all positive things.

I agree it's frustrating when staff don't know the answers, but you can't expect any employee to know everything all the time. There is more to service than immediately knowing the answer. Did they do all they could to find the answer for you? Did they direct you to another employee, check the computer for the book you wanted, or offer to order it? Good service is not exclusive to smaller bookstores; bad service is not exclusive to chain bookstores.

What was the point of mentioning that the sales associates are underpaid workers? A quick internet search finds the average salary of a sales associate at one big chain store to be 8.44/hour. That's above minimum wage and on target for the starting salary of lower-level library positions (in my area, at least), which are roughly equivalent in job duties. How much can an independent store afford to pay its employees? I wouldn't wager they're making $20+/hour. Perhaps the mention of salary meant to imply that these employees aren't motivated to provide good customer service? Salary is not a good indicator of work ethic.

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