I wrote yesterday about my visit to a wonderful little independent used and antiquarian bookstore. As it happens, I also had a chance to visit our nearby Barnes and Noble store, incentivized by a 20% coupon I’d received by email. Turns out I was able to score a copy of Capital by Thomas Piketty (my BIG summer reading project) at under $20 (retailed at $40) using my Barnes and Noble membership, the coupon, and the discounted price they were selling it at. Perhaps they knew that sooner or later potential readers would figure out this is a LONG book even if it is a best-seller.
It is interesting to reflect on how my experience compared to my visit to the Indie bookstore. Both certainly offered the experience of browsing long aisles of books and discovering books of interest I was unaware of. Barnes and Noble occupies far more space of course, and one of the big differences is no floor to ceiling bookcases and much wider aisles. There was no Norman in the basement lovingly preparing books for the shelves because there was no basement.
Still, the booksellers were friendly and I was asked if I needed any help. So were the people at checkout, but with a big difference. It was all very inefficient, and impersonal. No one knew any names. The customers by and large didn’t know the booksellers or each other. I suppose there are times we want it that way. But the feeling was, as I reflect on it, that this was just a big box store for books and media–and pastries.
That was the other thing. At checkout, we were given a coupon for $10 off cheesecake from their cafe’. And we were really encouraged to go buy one. So we wandered over, only to find out that the starting price was $40. We didn’t need cheesecake that badly. But we were given plenty of reasons why we could need it. It was plain that they really wanted to sell us a cheesecake.
It was interesting that the greatest effort to engage me as a customer in a bookstore was to try to sell me a cheesecake. In the other store, what they cared about were what kind of books I was interested in. It is fascinating that there is something of a resurgence in the Indie stores, at least according to this Salon piece. What I wonder is whether this season of discontent with Amazon over its treatment of Hachette might be an opportunity for Barnes and Noble stores to take a look at the Indie stores and how they might operate more as a “third place” than as a big box store for books, media and pastries. I don’t say ditch the pastries– a cup of coffee and a scone are wonderful adjuncts to leafing through newly purchased books! But thinking about how to make this like the neighborhood bookshop might be worthwhile as well.
What strikes me is that the Barnes and Noble booksellers I’ve met also know and love books. And my observation is that most of what people are actually buying in the stores are books. In the small Indie store I wrote about yesterday, they help foster a community of booklovers. It occurs to me that there are many members of the same tribe frequenting Barnes and Noble–and working there. I can’t help wondering if working on that connection could make Barnes and Nobles a more enjoyable place for booksellers and customers alike. And I can’t help wondering if it would enhance sales. I could be totally out to lunch here. What I do know, and maybe this is a function of age, is that I am increasingly attracted to the places where that connection happens.
What do you think? What do you value most about going to a brick and mortar bookstore?