Shop-Talk: Brick and Mortar, Online, and Me


An interesting article came across my desk last week that got me thinking about bookstores—I mean physical bookstores, as opposed to online merchants—and how what I say and how I behave often don’t intersect. Here’s the article, which is basically predicting the demise of B&N and other big-box bookstores (well, I guess Books-a-Million is the only other one left now?).
First, a disclaimer. I don’t own a bookstore. I don’t personally know anyone who owns a bookstore. I made a conscious decision not to commercialize this blog site. I write books that are sold online only, and I write books that are sold in brick and mortar stores, including Barnes and Noble. When I did my little book tour for Royal Street, my signing at the Barnes and Noble in Birmingham was among my favorite stops.  
As an author and a believer in free enterprise, I would hate to see Barnes and Noble fail as Borders did. I hate to see independent bookstores struggling, although they seem to be rallying somewhat. I want people to be able to stumble across my books as they wander through the stacks, reading cover blurbs and pondering cover art. I’d hate to see the vibe of a bookstore disappear, whether it’s the small specialty store filled with wall-to-wall books or the sprawling two-story behemoth box. I mean, I would freaking love to LIVE in the Barnes and Noble store in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, and I spent a lot of time there.
But, as an author, I also like that people who live in rural areas or towns too small to support a big-box store or outside the U.S. can still find my books online. The closest Barnes and Noble to me is an hour’s drive away by interstate.
As a reader, though….I have to be honest. It’s easier to buy online, even when I’m buying print books. (And, yes, some of my online purchases are through B-and-N, although most are from Amazon because of free prime shipping). I work long hours. I don’t have time to drive to a mall and browse during hours when the stores are open. I usually know what I’m looking for and can find what I want in a matter of seconds instead of driving across town to a bookstore that has only a general selection in the genres I read, composed mostly of best-sellers. 
As a reader, I’m exactly the person physical bookstore owners despair of: a voracious reader and buyer of print books who rarely sets foot inside a brick-and-mortar bookstore anymore. Now that the digital revolution has arrived, well…let’s just say it’s not that unusual for me to be downloading an impulse buy at midnight.
So as an author and a supporter of the open marketplace, I hate to see any bookstore closing its doors. I hate to see less competition. I hate to see the tradition and romance of the bookstore going away. I pray it doesn’t. It might look different. The niche stores (like the fabulous Murder by the Book in Houston or Mysterious Galaxy in Southern California) might be the future of bookstores–if I had access to those stores, I’d be there a lot. 

 Talk about mixed feelings.
What are your thoughts? What percentage of your book purchases are made online versus in a physical bookstore? Do you see that changing? 
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