When Amazon Killed Bookstores

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Image by louda2455 on Pixabay

Remember when Amazon killed bookstores? Cool story bro.

Except for the fact that it is entirely fictional.

I came across it most recently in a facebook group where someone informed me that in 1993 bookstores (chain and indie) in his area were doing perfectly well. This is fine and it was true in our area too, more or less.  More less than more, if you looked closely because the seeds of destruction were already sown, but we didn’t know it/see it, unless our lifes revolved around reading and writing.  Arguably mine did, but only arguably, since I had a small child and another on the way, so I had more things worrying me than the current novel, let alone than what I was currently reading.

At any rate, in 93 I was broke, so buying a paperback could stop me being able to buy groceries for a couple of days, so most of what I read came from the free bookcases outside the used bookstores (you remember those, right? It’s where they put things that they’d turned down for trade, but the customer insisted on leaving behind. I spent two or three years reading a lot of Gothic romances, out of date biology manuals and some “history” on the level of ancient astronauts. On the bonus side I acquired a strange interest in cryptozoology that didn’t in any way imply I believed the sightings.

Anyway, onward. We were at the edge of paying off our debts (mostly the debt for the birth of #1 son by emergency caeserean while we were on COBRA, but also the debt for moving across the country.) and it would usher in five or six years where we went to bookstores a lot.  In fact between us and our best friends we setup a weekly “date” in which we’d leave all kids with a babysitter and head off to the dollar theater.  We’d buy tickets then kill two hours by going to Barnes and Noble and — if we were flush — to eat.

By 1997, we started referring to our bookstore trip as “going to be disappointed by Barnes and Noble.”  Because largely it was.  More and more, I found it difficult to find anything at all to read on the fiction shelves.  When you consider that I read science fiction, fantasy, mystery and in a pinch various kinds of historical fiction and romance, this was nothing short of astonishing.

Mystery at the time was often in the grip of what I called “waves of crazy.”  The one I remember best happened later, around 2005? and it was bookshelves filled with nothing but what I called “Sex in the city” mysteries, where the single protagonist obsessed on sex and shoes. It was bizarre, disturbing, and I still have no idea what the publishers were thinking, except that apparently a TV series translated to general readership.

Fantasy had fallen down a hole of “the poor deserving heroine gets a sword” and the fascinating, intricate civilizations that are, to me, the redeeming feature of heroic fantasy had vanished.

Science fiction…  Well, our stores, both indie and B & N seemed to mostly carry game-related and tv-series related fiction.  Since I’m not interested in either, I slowly stopped reading SF.

Oh, and indie stores weren’t better (and were often worse) than B & N.  In my area (and I grant you we lived almost next door to a college) they were populated by people who spent a lot of time trying to radiate intellectual superiority.  One stock phrase was “We don’t stock THAT.” And “that” mostly referred to the sort of books I liked to read.

I did buy — from the discounted tables — a vast quantity of history books, most of them “swords in the middle ages” type of general information things.  Not deep, but the sort of thing a writer needed in pre-internet age, when you hit a point in the story and went “how thick was the blade in this time period, again?”  Having set up my library this last week (I need to find the digital camera and get a picture of the shelf system that took forever and took over our garage for four months. The weird thing is that at eight feet high it looks tiny compared to the built ins. It will be replaced by more built ins, as soon as we have the money.) I came across a ton of them.  Some I can now get rid of, but some are a source of highly targeted info that doesn’t allow me to be captured by internet squirrels.

But what we actually went there for, with ready money to burn, that we couldn’t find.

These years, say 93 to 98, I was buying fiction, but mostly used.  In fact, (we lived in the Springs at the time) Murder by the Book in Denver was how we started our incredibly ritzy vacations.  I.e. we went to Denver for two (or if particularly flush three. Though usually more like two and a half) days, stayed at embassy suites with the kids (because two separate rooms and free breakfast which if eaten at around 10 held the kids till early dinner at 5) hit the museums and the amusement parks, and generally painted the town a very pale pink.  Before that all started and an important consideration for “when to leave on Saturday” was “Murder by the Book” where we stopped and (sometimes the guys waited in the car) I went in and filled two large bags (or boxes) with used books.

For whatever reason I read cozy mysteries like people eat popcorn. I will read one after the other, requiring nothing but momentary entertainment.

During this time I started noticing three things: one, most of the books I was buying were very old indeed. Like, first published in the thirties.

Two: most of the newer books, particularly the ones (I was learning to recognize this at the time) whose cover and numbers indicated they’d gotten “push” were almost unreadable. I remember the ones that took long breaks in the middle to preach politics, but it wasn’t even that. It was say the ones where the professor characters sneers at everyone not an academic. Or the ones where characters’ moral worth is assigned by political orientation or….

Three, I often found writers whose voice and worlds were engaging and set out to find more (often by researching in the still-infant internet) and found out they’d been published two or three years before (but had never been on my local new store shelves) had written three books and disappeared forever.  As a reader this was frustrating and exhausting.  Mystery readers, particularly the ones who read mysteries like popcorn, get very invested in “their” series. I hated falling in love with new surroundings and knowing there wouldn’t be any more. It made me reluctant to try out new writers.

I also bought other books, in the used bookstore I could push a pram to.  One of the authors I found around that time was Terry Pratchett.

And I found others, too, it’s just that my rate of buys slowed to a crawl compared to when I had been able to buy books before.

In this net argument the same person asserted that by 2003 all these stores were in trouble, and it was self-obviously Amazon’s fault.

Now, I have a pretty good memory, and I was one of Amazon’s first customers. My desperate search for reading material sent me online, despite having to purchase with a credit card (for a while we kept an account exclusively for this purpose), having to wait two weeks for the books (no prime) and generally missing the browsing experience. But I could — and did — get the books I wanted.  Even if most of the series died at three books.

But 2003 was before ebooks were a thing, and though Amazon was — I think — bigger than a really big bookstore, it was not the weight in the world that it is now. By and large it was “just a store.”

It certainly didn’t have the power to kill other bookstores.

And yet, I agree, by 2003 bookstores in trouble.

The thing to remember is that just because a model was succeeding it didn’t mean that the model that succeeded killed the failing model. Sometimes industries, models and general ways of doing things commit suicide.

Which is the best way to explain what happened to publishing and bookselling in the nineties and oughts, and hell, still today.

There were contributing factors, outside the industry(ies) scope, which I didn’t even bring to mind right away when we started the discussion.

I maintained the most important thing was that book publishers and book sellers forgot that their primary motive for existing was “making money by selling books.”  Instead, they were publishing things they either thought would impress their NYC cohort or — often — things they thought “would sell” from a completely non-reader perspective. Hence the Sex in the City mysteries.

Which btw, speaking of yesterday’s post and provincialism, might seem weird to those of you not in publishing, but was part of how the business worked (and for all I know still does) to the point that when the Shakespeare series wasn’t doing well, they told me our only hope was that someone would do another “Shakespeare movie.” (Rolls eyes.)  The model was apparently based on the idea that movie goers and genre book readers are exactly the same people, and that popularity in one translates to the other.  Oh, and a total allergy to market research.

But there was more, and some of it, bizarrely, from outside the industry. There was the Thor tools case, for instance, which made it impossible to warehouse vast unsold inventories (or iow how careers in the field were made when your books, like mine, are “slow and steady sellers.”  You keep the inventory and grow that long tail until eventually the writer is selling massive amounts per book on release.)  Because, you see, you were taxed on those per cover price value, from what I understand.  So print runs got ever tighter and laydowns smaller, and writers started being treated like lottery tickets, who either paid big money up front or were let go or had to change name.

The need to absolutely predict sales numbers, and the fact that even an inaccurate prediction that led to a bestseller could undo an editor’s career, in turn, made the booksellers embrace “by the numbers” stocking, aka ordering to the net.

Which is a brilliant idea, maybe, for a tiny bookstore. It sucks mightily for a large chain which then allows the publishers to manipulate laydown.

You see, ordering to the net is very sound, if all books got the same headstart. If you have a store full of books that each stock say five copies, and some only sell two copies, and some sell 5, it makes more sense to reorder the 5 and only order two from the authors that only sold two copies before. Of course it does.

What it makes no sense though is in a world where some books have 100 copies, others have 1 or 2 per stores.  The chances of your finding, let alone buying that one copy are infinitesimally small even if you don’t throw in that many of that single or two copies WERE NEVER UNPACKED. As I found over my first series debacle, the books would show on stock on the computer (I was trying to do drive-by signings) but the massively overworked clerks never unpacked them. What that showed was stocked 2, sold none. The fact it would take a miracle to sell books that were in the closet (even when I showed up to sign it took days to locate them) didn’t matter to the computer.

Publishers, pressured to “print only what sells” welcomed this chance to manipulate what sold.  They routinely told the bookstores they had high confidence and were printing 100k books (which meant they were actually printing 50k. It’s lies all the way down.)of those books they wished to push.

Which in turn led to push marketing.

All of this adds up to: between 93 and 2003 the publishers and bookstores colluded to push on the public ONLY what they believed the public should read.

The end result — which I’m sure shocks everyone — of books being chosen and pushed ONLY by an insular (provincial) NYC establishment is that the books — unexpectedly! — stopped selling and people were turned off from reading in droves.

This in turn led to… bookstores failing.  Publishers are arguably still going (and I have ideas on how and what it means, but that’s something else again.)

So, apparently to the man on the street, this means that Amazon killed the bookstores (and video killed the radio star.)  No, seriously.

What I say is that if you’re a business that forgets your primary concern is to sell, you weren’t killed. You committed suicide. In the market place. With a smug assumption of unearned superiority.

All Amazon did was exploit a vastly under-served market.

 

247 responses to “When Amazon Killed Bookstores

  1. Canadian small town experience. We had two book stores. One downtown, and the other at the local mall across the highway. One used bookstore downtown as well. The big name bookstore had a decent stock and you could order books if available. The bookstore at the mall was the same deal, and sometimes would stock opposite the downtown store. Used book store was hit or miss at times. Still managed to get lucky in searches.
    Big trip for me was heading to Toronto and visiting the “World’s Biggest Bookstore” Which had EVERYTHING I was looking for. As in book one in a series. Alas, it closed about ten years ago and I believe they built condo’s on the site (right downtown and prime real estate).
    Trouble is that the downtown bookstores shut down and shuttered BEFORE Amazon became a big thing in Canada. Toronto bookstores experienced the same thing. Used bookstores are now cut throat and the prices aren’t much of a bargain. Fewer of them as well. Rents and locations are the issue these days I think.

    • Yep. Here they also shuttered before Amazons. I think it was inventory and honestly things that publishers were putting out turning people off reading.

      • The big independent store in Palo Alto was Printers Inc. Great selection (got a lot of my money in the ’80s), but they got killed by the box stores and died in 1999, then were partially ressurrected a couple years, then gone.

        I think they had affordable lease issues, and Borders was direct competition, along with the expansion of B&N in the ’90s.) For my tastes in reading in the ’90s, B&N was adequate and a lot closer. (I had an interest in history of a)WW-2 and b) tractors, and B&N had a good selection in both categories. Three mile drive vs 20.)

      • Xavier Basora

        And poor customer service. I had a similiar experience to paladin.But I lived in Quebec. The English bookstore sucked and frove me first to buy direct from the publisher and later to Amazon.

        The French bookstores were much better. They’re still around.
        Bad customer service was another factor

    • Big trip for me was heading to Toronto and visiting the ‘World’s Biggest Bookstore’ Which had EVERYTHING I was looking for.

      Heh. Well I remember times when a family outing consisted of going to closest BIG city (Charlotte, 100 miles) and hitting book store there (and museums and Indian restaurant for dinner) or nearest College Town (Chapel Hill, approx. 50 miles) for Intimate Bookshop, a two story cornucopia of reading matter.

      FIL treated us to London Trip circa 1980 and Beloved Spouse & I trolled the city’s abundant book stores, buying enough to stun the customs agent when we declared our full quota of import in books. Honeymoon was visiting NY work and spending evenings seeing Broadway shows (priced affordably way back in 1975) and days shopping eighth avenue (IIRC) book stores.

      • My one trip to Harrod’s in ’99 (I was visiting my sister who was on an exchange to Oxford and she was in class to I spent a couple days wandering around London on foot and tube), the only thing I came out with (or home with at all, for that matter) was a stack of Discworld novels I’d been unable to get where I was stationed in Germany. [Pratchett being one of the few English-language authors/editions you could reliably find on German paperback racks. Which is a good thing because AAFES was very erratic about stocking them and while I used Amazon even then, it was still very much in its larval stage]. They are my favorite editions though because Corgi was still using the Kirby covers instead of the awful generic mass-market ones that the US publisher were using at the time, which didn’t give you any idea what the books were about or even what genre they were.

    • Harry R Spitz

      Once upon a time, back in the 90s, I lived in Searcy, Arkansas.
      It was served by ONE small sort-of book store that also carried music, and computer stuff. There was a college there, but I was never able to find its books store. For a SF reader like me, it was pitiful.
      To find a REAL book store, I had to drive to Memphis or Little Rock.

  2. During the 90s my wife head to B&N and would buy everything that Baen had published that month, anything by authors we knew and liked, plus one or two others that looked like they might be interesting. (When we got home we would often negotiate over who got to reach what first.) Then we’d hit the tables to see if anything there tickled our fancy. Then we’d go across the road to Borders where she browsed the magazine racks while I perused the then-extensive technical book section. (This was before what almost amounted to a tech bookstore inside a bookstore was mostly replaced by games and recreation in a store that served an area where a ton of Research Triangle Park and other tech workers lived.)

    That was it for B&N and Borders for the month, unless I suddenly needed a tech book on a particular subject right away. Our other big book expedition for the month was to Books A Million.

    Somewhere along the line, Baen started selling a bundle of every book for the month in ebook form and I started reading most of those on my Palm Pilot but my wife wasn’t into ebooks so that didn’t change our dead tree buying habits until Amazon suddenly made it easy to get what I had to search for at the chain stores.

    • The time I ran into Ricky Williams, he had a stack of tech and philosophy books. By the time I left the NOLA area the same store had none of those books on the shelves.

    • I remember the old Borders math, science, and computer sections.

      When my local one closed I got the Feynman lectures and a copy of Newton’s Principia because those were normal, stocked items.

      It just wasn’t enough to save Borders in the age of grey goo.

      • They had some wonderful history monographs, too.

      • I picked up the big edition of Roget’s.

      • When Borders had a great technical book section it was because they had indirectly purchased perhaps the greatest (albeit tiny) tech book chain in the US, the former Computer Literacy. I discovered the chain at Tyson’s Corner, which was the second-largest store in the chain. The largest store occupied the ground floor in the one building at a San Jose campus that Tymnet didn’t occupy at the time. It briefly went online as FatBrain.com, then the whole thing was swallowed by Borders. Since this meant that I no longer had to go to Virginia or San Jose I was happy to see the tech book section of Borders bloom. More than anything else the vanishing of that section pushed me to Amazon.

  3. I’ve stated before that by 2000-ish i had basically given up on reading SF that wasn’t purchased from a used bookstore until a friend sent me to Baen’s web site to read the three sample chapters of A Hymn Before Battle. Before that, I really hadn’t seem many Baen books in bookstores.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Hymn was one of the first Baen books I noticed, but I originally bounced off the cover and the blurb. Didn’t know Ringo then, and was already starting to get cynical about PC and nihilism in published fiction.

      I followed Aaron Allston from the X-Wing books to Baen’s Doc Sidhe. Then got into Hymn.

      • I had been reading Ringo’s columns in the NY Post and finally broke down and bought Hymn, the first book of new SF in about a decade. That got me back to browsing the SF/F sections and one day I looked at the basket full of ppbs I had pulled to consider and realized 95% had the Baen sigil on their spines.

      • well, my dad had subs to several of the sci-fi short story mags in the 90s and I had gone back to live with him for awhile, and I got rather disappointed with the ‘humanity is bad mmmkay’ thread that ran through most of the stories i was seeing in them.

        • That’s abot when i gave up on them. I remember the last straw was Aboriginal SF published a story where the Indians betrayed us because of Colombus or something. Now my big issue with the story was that it was a mean spirited deus ex machina but that in general I had noted that the stories had generally become boring and unreadable. But that particular one was downright offensive. Last year my wife bought me Analog as a stocking stuffer but i felt no interest in even cracking the cover and eventually pitched it unread.

    • Pretty much you are describing how I got into detective fiction. The sf/f fantasy section wasn’t worth the effort more often than not.

      Even the later Coyote novels by Allen Steele were forced into “we have used up all the resources of the solar system and are doomed” (that’s right, within 300 years the whole solar system was mined dry.

      Ruined what had been a very good series.

  4. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Well, I remember when the screams were about the “small bookstores” (often independent bookstores) were being killed by the “Very Big Bookstores” (like Borders & B&N).

    On the other hand, I once visited a “small bookstore” in the Detroit area. Found it hard to get to, problems with parking and when I got in I found a poor selection of books that I wanted to browse or purchase. I later read a newspaper story about it shutting its doors and the owner whining about the “Very Big Bookstores” killing his store. I had a chuckle about his whine as I had never returned to his store.

    On the gripping hand, regulars of a certain age and living in the Chicago area may remember the store “The Stars Our Destination”. It was a SF/F bookstore whose owner claimed “if it is in print, we have it or can get it”. It was a fun place to visit even if its second location had parking problems. It’s gone now and I’m not sure if Alice (the main owner) is still alive. The problem for her store was rent and she had to move her store IIRC twice.

    So I see the “evil Amazon” as a bunch of nonsense. 😦

    In some cases, the bookstore had other “outside” problems but in the cases of Borders & B&N, their policies were the problem. 😈

  5. Ah, yes. I remember going to Borders and finding so much.
    Ran into Ricky Williams in there once.
    Then came borders.com . . . order at home go pick it up at the store.
    Only did it once for a book. A few times for music.
    Then the store had less and less (while still the same footprint) and I got an email stating the website was now borders.amazon.com, and I needed to get an account at Amazon.
    Borders later blaming Bezosland was rich. By then, the music sections were miniscule, or in some stores gone, video, the same. Books? Much were not worth the dust they were collecting.
    They stopped carrying the few magazines I read (odd race engineering and tech the subs were not much of a savings).

    Can’t imagine why they went out of biz.

    • I never liked Borders or Books A Million. However found them to be well stocked and BAM at least the few I’ve been in are such a mess it was hard to find anything in them at all. B&N had become little more than a toy store and even though I still spend an average of $5/day on books rarely had anything that tempts me to buy. Half Price books is pretty good though.

  6. That’s why we always went early in the month while at least one copy of each new Baen release remained. If we were out of town we still went in whatever city we were in. My luggage would include one lockable duffel that had been packed inside the suitcase. On the way home the duffel had my dirty clothes (inside a plastic bag) while the books (and anything else we had acquired) rode inside the suitcase. Otherwise, we’d get home and find that we had missed some Baen releases that month.

  7. My wife and I are both the type of people that consider our home to be as much library as place to live. So we are constantly buying books. Even with ebooks we are still inclined to buy about half a dozen items of large sheaths of paper between two pieces of cardboard.

    We both miss the days of browsing the bookstores, but have stopped for the most part for different reasons. For my wife B&N always seem to stock the exact same books in the mystery section, and never have the first few books in a series in the fantasy & science fiction setting.

    For me, I go in to buy nonfiction as much as fiction, but find the same authors on the wall year after year, even in sections such as science, where there are new books coming out all the time.

    Amazon i can get a diverse selection of books on a subject with just a quick search. I just can’t get that at a book story anymore.

    • Yep. Since I read mystery, sf and non fic, I stopped for all the named reasons.

    • We both miss the days of browsing the bookstores

      The disadvantage of Amazon is you find what you were looking for, not what catches your eye. There are workarounds, but the main take away is that bookstores lost to Amazon when they stopped having anything worth reading that you weren’t looking for.

      • Dawn Dreams

        Heh, I fall down even more literary rabbit holes now than I did in the physical bookstore. (If there’s a rabbit hole, I WILL find it.) But agreed, bookstores failed, and then Amazon filled the niche.

  8. The Barnes and Noble in Reno– became a glorified coffee shop with a few books hanging around. I finally went totally digital around 2006. When I started shopping in Amazon, I was in Germany. Very few companies would sell to military or send to military boxes. But, Amazon would. They really did serve underserved groups.

  9. When I was an elementary schooler back in the ancient days of the early 90s I remember we’d pop by the book stores and malls while out shopping and wandering up and down the isles of Walden or Encore Books hunting for something. You never knew what you were going to get, but I do remember always being trapped in a situation where you could never find all of a given ‘series’ of books.

    I had a habit for D&D related bubblegum in my younger years, and I remember picking up the Crystal Shard by Salvatore at one Walden’s. Then discovering if I wanted Stream of Silver the second book in the series, I had to hunt around and found it at a B. Dalton’s at a local super mall but those guys didn’t have Halfling’s Gem (Book #3) and I had to find it at an Encore. So I had to stretch reading the series out over a several month period because I just couldn’t find the sodding books because the people in the local area apparently under-stocked the D&D stuff. In the early 2000s we had a Borders who advertised their manga section, but they stocked about nine thousand copies of one or two volumes of a series, and then again, only seemed to order one each of every subsequent volume.

    It reminds me of how some of my friends who are into anime complain about how they can’t go to a Suncoast and ‘browse the stacks,’ anymore and I understand exactly where they’re coming from, but I remember how often the Suncoast would only order one tape of each volume of a series, and only ones that they thought would be popular, resulting in nearly every anime fan in my circle having this bizarrely incomplete knowledge of their favorite series and speaking of ‘a full collection’ as if they had managed to reunite all of the lost segments of an ancient destroyed archive.

    These places are out of business because they didn’t provide the supply we went to them for. I go on Amazon and I want all the parts of a series? Amazon /suggests/ them to me.

    And these days when I pop into the B&N in our neighborhood, they still seem to be light on ‘series.’ I hunted down some of Larry Correia’s MHI books for a friend, and discovered the B&N near us had two of his first book, and then one of his /fifth/ and nothing else. So I just went online instead.

    • Now you’re actually getting me to remember…

      I think it’s because I’m younger than most of the people here (maybe? Hard to tell, really, but I’m 32 in any case), but while I can see the sense in everyone’s anecdotes and accept they are likely true, I couldn’t really remember it happening. But! Of course that’s true! I was reading different books, differently, in a different section!

      (“D&D Bubblegum” was what spurred the memory; I fell hard in love with Dragonlance, and sought out every series I could find with Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman’s names on it. (Oh Haplo you dark brooding villain-protagonist you!) I was also buying an Animorphs book once a month when they came out. And then, I’m not sure how I hopped over to Steven Brust, but there’s another advanced series that tended to have high availability. When you’re a baby reader just getting into the same things everyone around you is into, it’s probably just about the ideal place to try to jump in and have things actually available.

      (I guess also Babysitter’s Club, but my older sister had collected those in her day so I just read the ones that were already around.)

      …it’s weird, to have forgotten this, because naturally later I *did* have the same experience as everyone else seems to have; even when I found and started following a ridiculously popular series (Anita Blake, I started when I got my first job/own place/etc in 2008), and my workplace was right across the street from a bookstore so it was very tempting to get the next one, they didn’t have more than a couple of the back-issues. (It was *weird* when I remember there being whole *shelves* dedicated to making sure they had all 54 (or whatever) Animorphs, with the only gaps being things like “the one with the dolphin on the cover, because everyone keeps buying the one with the dolphin on the cover.”) I wound up shrugging off the idea of finding a new series when I got as far with AB as I wanted to, and… near as I can tell, hopped back to fanfiction (what I’d mostly done in the intervening years between when Dad would bring us to the bookstore multiple times a month and when I had my own money) without much concern for whether I was familiar with the initial fandom or not.

      All of this has not much to do with anything, now that I’m reading back. Just, I’m glad you mentioned “D&D bubblegum” because that unlocked an entire, like, decade-long period I didn’t remember. O.o Thank you

      • The fiction dedicated to established IPs does seem to still dominate, but it still has some pretty large holes in it. Most of the Sci-fi section at our local B&N is dedicated to Warhammer 40,000 and Star Wars books these days.

        And hey, I’m always happy to send someone else down nostalgia lane. I still miss the mystery of the old D&D books and stuff. We didn’t do by-mail ordering, and I had no catalogue, so every discovery was like finding something new and novel, so reminiscing on it was kind of pleasant for me too. But my nostalgia goggles come equipped with the knowledge that there were a lot of shortcomings in their marketing from those days. Short comings that I’m not sure have been fixed.

        As for fanfiction, I still kind of view it as a dirty pleasure of writing your stuff in someone else’s universe. I think it can be a good place though for people to practice stuff like pacing and story design while taking a break from having to create characters or world-build.

    • I can see some degree of more 1 and 2 than subsequent. I buy a lot of manga book ones at HPB to sample and only those that click get books 2 and later.

      However 20:1 is not a working ratio. Maybe 20:10:10:10:9:8 or something.

    • One of my favorite features st Amazon is the series list where you can see exactly what the books are their order and buy them all with one click

  10. Exactly: by selling their souls to the Publishers, bookstores committed seppuku, Amazon merely acted the part of kaishakunin, delivering the final blow to sever the spinal cord and end the death agonies.

    Sigh. I’m so old I remember when the threat was “Big & Nasty” chain stores destroying the small independent bookstore by offering such amenities as adequate lighting, regular dusting and extensive selection.


    Frankly, I think the book industry went into its death throes when they started binding the manuscripts before you bought them.

    N.B.: Hanks & Ryan are okay, but Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan did it first and better

    • John Patterson

      They even made a movie about that.

    • Birthday Girl

      He lies to her the whole time. Then it’s all okay because luuuuv. I can’t get past that.

    • If the book industry went into its death throes when they began selling bound books instead of you having to send the ones you wanted to keep to a binder, then it’s been as long to die as Broadway, which has been being pronounced ‘dead, it just hasn’t stopped moving’ on and off since Lincoln’s funeral…or so it seems.

    • The store I spent far too much money in frequented in Palo Alto was well lit, clean and very well stocked. It also had the usual mid-peninsula cost issues so that they had to charge list prices. Thus B&N (and Borders, and Crown) were able to undercut, and B&N in particular was on a major expansion drive. I think Amazon may have helped too, but the store was completely dead in 2001.

  11. The first book I self-published 4 years ago – A Net of Dawn and Bones – was in large part driven by, “I can’t find what I want to read on the shelves!”

    Because I couldn’t. Urban fantasy female protagonists were one black-leather-wrapped chick after another, panting with lust after the hot evil bad guy vampires/Unseelie/werewolves/whatever. Augh.

    So I wrote Net. And it sells. And I keep writing. Can’t make a living yet, but being able to pay the dentist? Not a small thing.

    I go to BAM to see what’s out new in manga that I might not have caught on Amazon. Other than that… sigh.

    • Yay for writing what you can’t find, and publishing it indie! So readers and writers flow around the gatekeepers, like water around a rock (It was once a dam, you see, and thinks it still is!)

      And yeah, my first one – I was tired of uber-rawr-woman and sycophant man who puts up with emotional abuse because the author says so. So I wrote a competent woman and a highly competent set of men, along with some pastiches of academics I have known.

      I was surprised when people liked it, but yay! And Now I try to keep writing. Sarah says I have to call myself an author, because I can’t accidentally commit novel twice…

      The last two times I’ve been in a B&N have been for Larry Correia signings. Both times they’ve gotten coffee out of my husband & myself, and a small handful of books that looked interesting enough to pick up… but it’s hard to find something that’s interesting enough to take home. Usually it’s something I looked at on Amazon already, and hadn’t gotten around to buying until I saw it in the flesh. (Cookbooks and reference books, especially).

      The last two times I’ve been in Books-A-Million, it was to buy a jigsaw puzzle. Seriously… I knew they’d have ’em! So, yes, I am a member of the public that votes with my dollars for BAM to keep toys and games in stock…Sorry!

      • *G* I quipped to family once 4th book was published that now it’s going to look like I’m doing this on purpose….

        Huh, jigsaw puzzles! I know someone who might like one.

        I was totally bummed when BAM stopped stocking anime. I’d been meaning to use one of their insane “X off $100” coupons on that….

        • I bought the folks a 3000 piece and a 6000 piece and they got the bigger one done rather quickly. They still are cursing me for the 3000. It wasn’t as easy as it looks.

          • Some puzzles we’ve gotten, the thing has been over after a couple group dinners… some take months. Thankfully, the dog isn’t interested in puzzle pieces. (Don’t know how we got that lucky!)

            • they got done with the 6000 piece and one was missing (A map of the world “Ah, who cares, it’s in Russia, anyhow”). The company had some system so they could mail any missing to you, and they ordered the piece. two days before it showed up in the mail (iirc from Germany) Mom found it under the pedestal of the dining table after moving it for floor cleaning . . . their 4yr old great granddaughter had been visiting and must have snagged it and it fell there

        • I was going to get them a 9000 piece, but they didn’t have a room big enough, let alone a table, to be ankle to work on the thing.

        • I initially read that as “BAM stopped stocking ammo” and wondered how I missed that period.

          I mean, ammo, bait, beer, beef jerky, gasoline, and books sounds like the perfect store.

          • It definitely sounds like a nice place to drop in and talk to like-minded folks. 🙂

          • For a limited selection of books, that’s Fred Myers in Alaska. The joke is you can buy everything for the wedding and reception there, from folding chairs & tables to cake to dresses to shotgun, ammo, and the rings…

            • A bit like the old Hudson’s Bay trading company (before it became The ‘Bay [at least in the cities]). Books, evening dresses, kitchen utensils, food, animal traps, outboard motors…

      • My last time in B&N (last week) was to buy Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation.

      • SheSellsSeashells

        Similarly, I wrote a whole damn book because I like shapechangers and can rarely find them outside of PNR (where, to add insult to injury, it’s almost always Innocent Mundane Woman falling for Hot Otherworldly Stud.) At this point, I have wholly admitted that I’m writing for my twelve-year-old self. 🙂

        • Shoot. What was that series I read back in high school (from the library, no less: my hometown had *a* little indie bookstore, which was a neat place run by a guy who loved books, but other than that it was supermarket/drugstore stands or a 45-minute drive to Coeur d’Alene for Hastings) about changelings? It was I think 7 books, with a very Celtic naming sense but otherwise Native American shifters. By the same lady who wrote Sword Dancer. Good books – do you know the ones?

    • The black-leather clad chick schtick can be done well (early Anita Blake and all of the Patricia Briggs moderns) but it’s like noir detective; easy to do, hard to do well.

      • Exactly. And apparently the mainstream publishers didn’t care how well it was done. Ow.

        Not to mention, not everyone wears black leather, oi. Some more tweed-wearing Hunters would have been nice.

        • The publisher’s don’t give a rat’s rear about the quality of Noir detective either. Never have, or Mickey Spillane wouldn’t have gotten in print.

          (Had to read I, THE JURY for a high school class, and compare it to THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.)

          *spit*

          • Ouch!

            …Makes you wonder if any publishers actually read for fun.

          • Spillane was NOT noir detective. His work was a different genre altogether and trying to sell his books to noir fans would be akin to trying to sell Fantasy to Hard SF fans. Similarity does not mean interchangeable.

            No matter what they try telling you, margarine is NOT equivalent to butter, nor are Coke, Pepsi and RC Cola so near as to not matter. Both Lapsang Souchang and Orange Pekoe are tea, but don’t try serving either in place of Earl Grey.

            • No, Spillane was Hard Boiled Detective which is a subset of Noir. He just was kinda the lowest form (at the time; there’s been worse since). He bears the same relation to Chandler that Barbara Cartland does to Georgette Heyer. Same pattern, but with all the subtle sucked out.

              • I’m going to disagree with HBD as subset of noir; more like a sibling. But I see no purpose served by engaging in argument over nomenclature, so you file your books as you like and I will file mine as seems sensible to me.

        • Apparently the mainstream publishers didn’t care how couldn’t tell when it was done well.

          FIFY

        • I shall have to find the exact post by Kris Rusch about that, but there’s over 6 years of archives to search…Anyway, there is an explanation. Not an excuse, just an explanation.

          As Kris notes, writers occasionally wrote a “book of the heart” – these were books that were written on spec, that they’d have to try to sell to the trad pub after putting in all the time and effort to write it with no guarantee of income. (Standard for people breaking in, yes, but really chancy on the income if you have books already under contract written under proposal.) Usually money losers, often rejected, these were written only for the love of it, and often quietly shelved after being rejected as unmarketable / not your current subgenre.

          When a book came out of nowhere and broke out, making it big, the publishers immediately wanted more just like it, to ride the wave and sell to everyone who loved the first book. And all those authors with books of the heart that were anywhere close? They already had a novel written, deliverable, ready to drop straight into the publishing industry pipeline. So you’d get a flush of novels that weren’t ripoffs, but were similar – pent-up supply hitting the market. But if demand continued (and it often did, because the first wave of similar novels were good books), then the second wave of books written to market would hit – as in, “That’s popular; I’ll write that and make great sales!” And the publishers don’t care about the quality – they care about catching the wave “As long as it has vampires on the cover, the masses will buy it!” So the ripoffs hit the market, and the public buys those, then puts the book down unfinished. But there’s already a bunch behind them, because publishing takes a year to get a book out. So by the time the ones in the pipeline come out six months after sales have fallen, they’re getting terrible numbers, and the editors don’t buy any more under “That’s dead; vampires don’t sell.” (Not until the next breakout book, anyway. Vampires are the undead genre, having risen from this editorial declaration of dead genre at least 3 times.) Usually followed, as profits fall from the single-book-fueled-spike, with “Americans don’t read anymore.”

          • And the pattern Tom Wolfe described in the essay ‘My Three Stooges’ (it’s in HOOKING UP), of literary writing turning its back on the wonderful possibilities of the novel of reporting in favor of lterary naval gazing didn’t help any with the public reading.

            As Wolfe observed, Steinbeck got read because he was telling stories that were full of reality. And modern ‘literary’ writers wouldn’t know reality if it bit them.

          • That makes all too much sense. Thanks.

        • *glees* Ooooh, I FINALLY figured out the “style” for my “totally not the watchers rolled into the Chosen One” guys….

          Hey, why not English hunting style, especially when “tweed with leather elbows” screams “professor” to Americans?

        • Are Jeans and a t-shirt (and loose flannel shirt over all.) considered acceptable? 😉

      • Noir is also easy to mess up bu deciding to remove the voiceover ten years later.

    • I wrote to vent, then started writing what i wanted to read. And then got attacked by other books.

      • SheSellsSeashells

        …yeah. My singleton made me happy, then demanded a sequel. Which is now in editing, and when I can’t edit I noodle with #3.

      • I’ve been told by someone who studies Ancient Greece that the Muses were not seen as airy graces, but more… plotbunnies. Fangy. And not to be denied.

        “Attacked by other books” is a good way to put it!

    • Urban fantasy female protagonists were one black-leather-wrapped chick after another, panting with lust after the hot evil bad guy vampires/Unseelie/werewolves/whatever. Augh.

      For what it’s worth, that is marketing copy that just sold a copy.

      To someone who usually likes leather wrapped chicks (although black is so 90s…try purple or a nice buff) at that.

      If there is a trope that needs to die a fiery death, “chicks did assholes” is it.

      • If there is a trope that needs to die a fiery death, “chicks did assholes” is it.

        Assuming autowrong and giving a solid AMEN.

        Chicks dig dudes who give a flying F.

        When it’s dishrags or a-holes, they’ll dig a-holes.

        When it’s strange dudes or jerks, they will…dig strange guys, actually. But the books say jerks. Because the only folks they actually KNOW with a spine are jerks, as opposed to “strange” guys.

      • Unfortunately there is too much truth in the ‘chicks dig arseholes’ meme for it to die. Whether it’s just because AH’s are more ‘interesting’ at first glance or there is a sense of challenge that the love of a good woman can ‘save’ the AH, I’ve seen it too often for me to discredit it. True, sometimes the latter ‘works’ for some definition of working, but as or more often the good woman gets dragged down into the miasma of AHery generated by her beloved.

        • I don’t disagree with the fact that it happens in real life… but I’ll be dipped in hogwash before I write a book that helps spread the impression that it’s 1.) normal, 2.) a good thing, 3.) what chicks should expect , 4.) going to pervade all the escapist fiction, too!

    • Because I couldn’t. Urban fantasy female protagonists were one black-leather-wrapped chick after another, panting with lust after the hot evil bad guy vampires/Unseelie/werewolves/whatever. Augh.

      And oh my gosh, can SOMEONE hit them with a cluebat?
      Any of them?
      JUST ONE?!?!?

      • Yes please. Lust does not override logic in everyone, and you would think that someone who hunts monsters would have the sense to at least think, “Oh, sure, hot – but he wants to eat me. And not in any fun way. Nope kthxbye.”

      • Have this image of the vampire/werewolf/unseelie/whatever just trying to get *AWAY* from the leather clad chick. ‘You’re not my type!! for one thing you are breathing! For another, you are annoying!’

        • For a third, you’re bipolar, and utterly self-centered, completely unable to understand life in other cultures, and clueless! I have enough drama in my own life, I don’t want yours!

          …sometimes I have to wonder if the prevailing attitudes of those chicks reflects the new york editors who choose the books….

          • Well, most of them probably thought ‘Sex in the City’ was a documentary series…..

            • Ugh, don’t go to the Instapundit comment section on any article involving women or divorce, there’s several guys there who insist the same. /sigh

          • Amsel, Matthew

            That… makes an uncanny amount of sense, given what I have heard regarding the NYC singles scene.

        • I look forward to reading yours.

          You don’t even have to him fall in love with a woman who’s willing to do stuff like scout for the lunatic. 0:)

        • *Cackles* Oh that would be awesome.

      • Amsel, Matthew

        To be fair, adventurer types often have poor decisionmaking skills. I mean, what sensible person would actually go up against supernatural?

        • *walks across room*

          *picks up vial of holy water with a rose lid and St. Michael smiting Satan the side*

          *walks back*

          A matter of choosing allies.

        • A responsible adult, that’s who. Because very, very, very few people who do heroic things do it for the glory or the heroism. Most real-life heroes simply did it because it had to be done, and they were the guy (or gal) on the spot who had the means and ability to do it. Read up on people whom received the Medal of Honor or Victoria Cross, or similar – and the overwhelming response is that they did it for their friends, their brothers in arms, because it was the right thing, and because it had to be done.

          Which is not actually a bad thing to teach people through truth in fiction, because some of our readers, someday, will end up in situations where things need doing, and they’re the only one at the right place, at the right time, who can stand up (or crawl) and do it.

          • I was reading an online discussion. . . .

            One DM said his rule for backstories was NO DEAD PARENTS.

            Another, NO TRAGIC BACKSTORIES of any kind!

            A third person said, but that’s really limiting because what else will motivate people to go out there and adventure? Very few people would without some motive.

            • So, Superman, Batman, Spiderman are all right out? As would be that Potter kid. Barry Allen and Hal Jordan* make the cut, however. Is Conan’s past tragic? I don’t guess he thought so.

              *Depending on which HJ back story you accept.

              • Yup. Tragic backstories are very useful if you want a wide range of possibilities.

              • I heard a rumor that Harry Potter didn’t start out as an orphan, but someone (and editor, I think) suggested to JK that the story would be more compelling if Harry *were* an orphan.

                And I’m inclined to think the editor was right.

    • The way that every single fairy tale telling has Not Your Typical Fairy Tale Princess helped inspire A Princess Seeks Her Fortune. So there is at least one fairy tale retelling that does have your Typical Fairy Tale Princess. (That is, for people who’ve actually read their fairy tales.)

      • Some of those actual fairy tale princesses were made of iron!

        • I recently stumbled across an argument over Frozen that was a year or more old, in which I think I disagreed with nearly every post that actually mentioned fairy tales. I am very proud of myself for not barging in.

          I am not sure if any of the people attempting to appeal to the original story had actually read it (or they might have noticed it was a less faithful adaptation than Disney’s Hunchback), and I am not sure what any of the people saying things like they shouldn’t change fairy tales so the girls rescue themselves/each other, or what are we going to think boys are for, had been reading, but almost certainly not that one.

          • *Snrk* Yeah. I did like Frozen as a story, but… the original Snow Queen story where the girl rescues the boy by her own grit and determination was a lot stronger a character than Anna. (Sorry Anna.)

            • I enjoyed the movie fine and actually got more attached to Anna and Elsa after getting to hear this one song from when they were kids that got cut out (and possibly over-listening to some of the actual soundtrack)… and I can’t say the book of HCA stories was really my favorite compared to the Grimm one, or the book of Russian fairy tales, or Folk Tales and Fables of the World, or some other ones… but good heavens, that was just a comically bad example for some of the things people were trying to say.

          • I haven’t run across that complaint.

            Mostly people who gush about a princess rescuing a prince as a purely modern innovation.

        • I’ve only heard of a prince who was that. He got turned into a stove.

    • Write faster! And write more. and more… and…

      More seriously, I have a bunch of family members who want additional books in *each* of the worlds you’ve published in so far.

      • *Blinks* I am honestly torn between “Yay!” and, “Oh boy, oncoming train….”

        Thank you! 🙂 I’m in the middle of editing the second draft of “Tell No Tales”, where magical mechanic meets a not-quite-ghost with serious unfinished business. Hoping to have that one ready in a couple months. *Knocks on wood!*

  12. As a kid, I dreamed of having a huge library in my house, with bookshelves full of books that reached the ceiling, with one of those ladders that slide on rails to help reach the top shelves. So, it took me quite a while to transition over to e-books. At first I felt bad every time I bought another e-book online because I had heard the story about Amazon killing off book stores, and sure enough quite a few of my favorite book stores had indeed closed.

    Since then, I realized the freedom of having that huge library… in my pocket! Sure, it’s annoying when I can’t lend a book. But then, I also can’t lose a book either. Yea, I might lose my kindle paperwhite or my phone (both of which I read off of). Or even lose BOTH (eek! That would suck!) but they would get replaced, and a quick sign-in to Amazon when setting up the new device, and there they are!

    Amazon add-audio also helps. If you don’t know about Amazon add-audio, do yourself a favor and LOOK IT UP!!! I recently met someone who was complaining that his wife was mad about him buying so many audio books, but he loved them. When I said I had quite a few also, due to the add-audio thing, I got a blank look from him. Then I had to (figuratively, of course) talk him down off of the ledge because he was buying all his audio books through the Audible interface, for FULL PRICE! He didn’t know about add-audio! (I bought 3 that way before I was clued in… so I could feel his pain.) Not that I expect to find anyone here that doesn’t already know about the add-audio thing. Just in case though. 🙂

    • My mom does half of hers via voice to text, half via the “for three dollars more, get the audio book.”

      She loves it, they bought their new pickup based on her being able to link her phone to stream (pro) audiobooks.

      • My mother is just about to transition from paper to Kindle paperwhite. I got her the paperwhite last year, and she has been using it off and on, but still not as much as paper books. However, just this past weekend she was having problems reading, but when she opened her paperwhite she could read fine (I’m guessing due to the back-lighting).

        • *big grin* Just wait until you’re both sitting there reading normal books, and she taps the paper because she got use to being able to look up words…..

  13. Growing up in So Cal, a trip[ to visit my grandmother in Pasadena most often included a trip to Vromans on Colorado Blvd – it’s still there and thriving, BTW – and I would head upstairs to the paperbacks with $10 saved from my allowance, and spend on books. (This when regular paperbacks were 25 or 35 cents, and the goatgaggers were 95 cents or maybe a whole 1.25.) Vromans was as big as a bookstore could be back then – still only about half the size of a B&N, but just about all books, and their customer service was and still is pretty good.
    Overseas, I bought from catalogs like Hatchards, and through a couple of book clubs, since the Stars & Stripes bookstores were pretty limited. So – transferring my book-buying to Amazon was a natural progression.
    The one indy bookstore in San Antonio is more interested in trendy progressive tomes and children’s books. They used to be welcoming of local indy authors – not so much any more.

  14. A data point does not a trend make, I understand but you might consider my experience. I like to read, mostly SF. I usually frequented Borders. Every month, I took my kids to pick out a book. By 2009, the kids were getting into college and Kindle came out. I made the decision to convert exclusively to the Kindle platform. I read many hardback books and the cost savings are significant. Having something I can read in daylight and darkness is nice and having a small platform with multiple books is good to. Also the smart phone appeared about then and I could read on it. For me, not just Amazon in general but the Kindle specifically killed any notion of me going to a book store. I noticed Borders failing soon after. I know book stores had some poor practices but for me the technology was a strong reason for the switch.

    • I was fueling aircraft, and while I had a laptop, in the truck, read dead tree . . . they were swirling before smartphones came into common use.

  15. Yep. I don’t visit bookstores often now. Used to go at least a couple of times per month, or every time I walked past and had the time to go inside.

    And the main reason: nope, nothing much there I’d care to read. Looks boring. No, that looks boring too. Why on Earth do all the heroes need to be “conflicted” now? No, I am not interested in your versions of “strong women”, thank you, especially not if it means there are no strong men in the story. Isn’t there anything that is only supposed to be fun? Hey, I actually would LIKE to read some “hero rescues damsel” stories sometimes… yep, I do like the self sufficient heroine who rescues herself too, but why do they all have to be just that (and blurbed as if that was something new and exciting).

    Science etc sections: small selection, a lot of it too generic to be interesting, unless it’s the few textbooks meant for students and those often have the opposite problem when you are not a student who needs one for the course you are taking. And usually never much luck if you are looking for something specific about something not taught in the local universities like, let’s say, horses in the middle ages, and not just how they were used but how they were raised and cared for, or maybe how exactly did the Apollo program get those men to the Moon, not just the generic history of those events (although of course you can’t find even that generic history unless somebody happened to write a new book about it recently and that book has been selling well). Well, that is understandable, but the problem there is that the salespeople rarely if ever have any idea how to help when you try to ask if there is something you could order about the subject. Knowledgeable salespeople who actually could help with stuff like that might, who knows, be a good reason to visit.

    And yes, it has gotten worse, much worse, in the last decades. If they still had similar selections as they used to have back in the 80’s or earlier I’d still probably find at least something, and browsing would still be fun. Back then they kept books longer and had more variety, and yes, you could even find more than the last published one of a series when it was a series. Maybe even all of them, sometimes.

    • >>Knowledgeable salespeople who actually could help with stuff like that might, who knows, be a good reason to visit.<<

      When my grandmother was widowed around 1960 she suddenly had to earn a living. While passing Remington's, one of the largest bookstores in Baltimore at the time, she noticed a sign that indicated that they were hiring. Her interview was conducted by the Remington who was running the store at the time, the son of the founder. Granny told me that the interview went on for two hours, and all they did was talk books. At the end of the interview, he offered her a job.

      "But I don't know how to run a cash register or write up orders!" she told him. This didn't bother him at all. "I can teach you that stuff," he said. "What I can't teach you is BOOKS."

      • Very wise man! The “bookstore employee/librarian who loves books and can recommend something you’ll love, that you didn’t know existed” is a rare and valued creature, who can turn indifferent readers into avid ones, and open up entire worlds to their patrons.

  16. thephantom182

    For me it was more about nothing-to-read. I agree that it happened slowly, starting somewhere around 2005-ish. Used to be I could pick up pretty near anything and it would at least be interesting, but around the 2000s I was beginning to have favorite authors like Ringo, Hamilton, Weber, because everything else was pretty much shite. Socialists In Space, and/or torture/death/kill. I think it was discovering Monster Hunter International that finally impressed on me just how bad everything else had gotten.

    Charles Stross finally finished me on new trad-pub books, I think. His extended hate-rants against Christians and “rednecks” in the middle of his books, I was pretty much done. And I don’t even go to church.

    It was in fact SO bad that that’s when I started fiddling around writing my own first book, which eventually became Unfair Advantage plus four more, and is now waiting only for a cover. (Soon, soon! I don’t art very fast.) But I was digging through my hard drive a couple days ago and the earliest files were from that time, 2004-2009. (I finally got the lead out and WROTE it in 2014, after being Told Off by a friend to get busy and finish it.)

    Thinking back to that time, we recall that Algore lost the 2000 election, and the American Left completely lost their shit. Eight years of Chimpy McBushitler, remember? And the publishing industry went full-on propaganda for the first time since WWII.

    That’s what killed it all for me. They took the fun out of it and made it all about politics. Here we are 15 years later, and they are reaping the whirlwind. Book stores all going broke because the books in them SUCK.

    B&N will be going bankrupt pretty soon I think, and in all honesty I must say it isn’t really their fault. They got their legs cut out from under them by politics, the same as all other entertainment and news companies have. Movies, books, magazines, all politics all the time.

    Thanks, Lefties. 😡

  17. Before “Amazon killed the bookstores” there was “Crown Books killed the independent bookstores”, which was more of the same drivel. I was living in Washington DC when that was circulating. And it was true…of some independents. Namely, the ones run by somebody with pretensions of being ‘Intellectual’, who stocked right out go The New York Review Of Books. There were plenty if independent bookstores in DC that were doing just fine. All of them had a point of view and were run by somebody with a passion. There was a mystery bookstore, and a Cilil War bookstore, and a Technical Bookstore, and all of them were doing just fine, thank you. It was the bookstores for people to buy books to leave on their coffee tables that were closing like so many three cent mousetraps.

    Pfui

  18. Christmas shopping one recent year for youngsters, went to the well-regarded local specialty kids bookstore. They didn’t have any volume 1s of the series the kids wanted their own copies of.
    Ok, maybe they’d just sold out. but they weren’t in a hurry to restock. Guess where I went for the books I needed.

    • I’m currently using my ‘short story a week’ to write a very early grade (think little golden book level) series for my son. I can’t find ANYTHING for a boy. He’s not really interested in what’s currently available (mostly princesses whether they’re overtly princesses or not), and there’s only so much paw patrol to go around.

  19. generally painted the town a very pale pink

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shades_of_pink#Mimi_Pink
    Given the political association of “pink” I recommend that, in future, you limit yourselves to painting the town “Mimi.”

  20. I have to admit, I’ve never been a big frequenter of B&N or Borders…but then, that was because I could find and afford my reading habit at used stores. 12 books a week at full price, or 12 books a week for a quarter?

    …I actually, at two libraries in a row, committed to reading every single book in their selection, because I’d run out of all the ones that looked interesting. Thankfully, by the time I was working hours that were extremely inconvenient for getting to the third library, I had a paycheck and a used book store nearby.

    And then there’s Title Wave Books in Anchorage. Which is massive, and awesome, with a Kaladi’s right next door for far better than starbucks coffee & food. But even there, I started running out of things to read… and when I went to the new book stores, I usually couldn’t find anything I wanted.

    I’ve slowed way down on reading, between health and life and general busyness, and I’ve barely read anything last year. Kindle just told me I’d read 54 books past 50% last year – which means I probably finished them, and no clue how many I started and put down or deleted in lieu of TBAR, while probably only 20 paper or so.

    I haven’t found an awesome used book store here in North Texas, and with my allergies flaring, I’ve been avoiding the repositories of allergens in favour of hypoallergenic electrons, anyway.

    • We had one decent used book store in Klamath Falls in the early aughts, but it folded. (I think it got replaced by a pawn shop/used car dealership, and that in turn got replaced by either an RV store or a storage shed store–the currently hot new businesses in town.) I still treasure the bird book I got from them. (Just what *is* that bird mauling the suet?)

      OTOH, when Charter went under, I didn’t miss it. I think I got one Harry Potter book (The Order of the Interminable Plotline, or something like that) and never went in again.

      I pretty much limit my current book buying to Kindle, especially since I have more books than can fit in one room in the house.

  21. Besides, when painting the town Mimi you can do Chevalier imitations …


    “Mimi, you funny little good for nothing Mimi,
    Am I the guy?
    Mimi, you sunny little honey of a Mimi,
    I’m aiming high!
    Mimi, you’ve got me sad and dreamy,
    You could free me, if you’d see me.
    Mimi, you know I’d like to have
    A little son of a Mimi bye and bye”

  22. the ones where the professor characters sneers at everyone not an academic

    If this is used to signal the corruption and vileness of the academic (see: That Hideous Strength) it might, might be acceptable. I presume such was not the case.

  23. I live in a zip code with very high end demographics. Not that we are rich, we live in the very cheapest housing in the town. This has a lot of benefits.
    One is we have the biggest library in the state, excepting only the State Library in Lansing. And yet I have to tell you the library is doing what the book stores have done – they are pushing classes and computer service and videos. They tried having a coffee and snack bar for awhile but they could not survive even selling $5 coffee, or maybe because they were selling $5 coffee…
    We still have a six block downtown with a downtown development authority. One of the things they say over and over is people want a bookstore downtown. There is a B&N about three miles outside town, but it is pretty much a card and coffee shop. But if you examine all the stores downtown none that have a lower profit margin like a bookstore can survive. Stores with a seasonal business like bike or ski shops barely survive. Part of this is simple greed. There is a mini-mall in the middle of downtown and it has 4 stores and about 9 empty store fronts. The rent is set so high they all failed. The owners all expect they will get the highest known rate from every renter. It seems nobody has the cash to actually buy the building they want to do business from – they are all renters.
    Also the downtown development association taxes them to keep adding festivals and multi-million dollar parking structures. Then they added parking meters. Nothing says go away and shop somewhere else like a parking meter. Especially after you get your first $25 ticket because you took too long spending your money there. The cost of two fireworks shows and a two month long Christmas season light show with 2 million lights is considerable.
    So books stores being unable to make a go of it here is just the same as all the other brick and mortar stores are experiencing. Retail in general is in trouble.

    • One of the things they say over and over is people want a bookstore downtown.

      *cough*
      People may say they want a bookstore downtown. That is not the same thing as patronizing a downtown bookstore.

      People say a lot of things, but few businesses can make their nut on what people say – they have to go by what people frickin’ do.

      • People “say” they want bike lanes and a walkable city, too, but how many people do you actually see out using the darned things?

        • Two, but one of them moved away two years ago…

        • Depends on what you mean by bike paths. The Little Miami Scenic Trail gets used a lot, but more for recreation then getting to / from work. (Though I know of at least 5 people who use it during the summer months for their commute) It is also suburb cities, not metro-cities for the most part.

        • Homeless love the bike trails along the Willamette River …

          But then the bike paths are not used by anyone else … because the homeless are camping along them …

          Oops. Excuse me. The stretch that Marist occupies along the east Willamette bike path is clear of homeless camps … you know the PRIVATE Catholic HS …

    • The issue of rent being insanely high… yeah, that’s a near-universal problem, even in smaller towns like mine. Commercial real-estate values are ridiculously inflated and no one is willing to rent for less than “assessed value” because then they are admitting that their commercial property isn’t actually worth what it was assessed for. So they sit on empty property and get nothing (how is that better?), and small businesses don’t open/don’t survive.

      • Universal enough to inspire a political party of one. 🙂 I still get a kick out of Mr. “The rent is too d-mn high!”

      • Yeah, even in Klamath Falls, the downtown rents went crazy, and the low margin places left or crashed. The stores that survived tend to be destination stores (like the remaining jewelry store, and a high end hardware/home decor place). A lot of these have some form of secondary business, like the jewelry place selling tickets for the community theater. It drives foot traffic, if nothing else.

        There’s a lot of empty retail, both inside and outside of downtown, so the newer/more marginal stores will try something cheap in the outlying areas. Some of the bigger stores got repurposed (Big furniture to marine and RV, K-Mart to a big farm and ranch store, and so on.)

      • If they admitted that their properties weren’t worth what they’re on the books at, then when the banks marked to market there would be a deflationary spiral that would make Black Tuesday look like Mardi Gras. Not to mention a banking crash no one could bail them out of.

  24. Many of the problems of brick & mortar stores *in general* are self-inflicted. Complex “reward” systems that delay checkout and lead to long times. Poorly-designed self-checkout systems, some of which seem like a science fair project done by a kid who didn’t have time to finish. Requirements for employees to speak in a highly programmed way so creepy that it falls right into the Uncanny Valley.

    • And they want you to pay for the ‘reward’ setup (or did last I bothered even looking…) unlike pretty much every other retailer who figures customer tracking (and spamming, alas. Yes, yes, definition quibble. Since 99% is “dropped on the floor” it’s if not spam, mighty close) is sufficient.

      It does seem as if it’s not “Give the customer what s/he wants” and “Make it easy for people to give us their money.” but more, “The longer we trap them for, the more we can get out of them.” and the register-line trapping grates. Or one can order on-line and not even need to get fully dressed. After one particularly disappointing BN trip, that happened. The next morning I ordered from Amazon, in my bathrobe.

      • Just this past weekend, I took my mother and two daughters to B&N. While they were looking at books and deciding what to buy, I noticed that the third book in a series I had been reading was finally out (not an author I actively stalk, so I hadn’t known) so I pulled out my phone, opened the kindle app, a couple pokes and it was right there ready to read. Yea, probably not “nice”, but it was buy the hard-back from the store, or the much cheaper and more convenient e-book. No contest!

        Sadly, everyone else found dead-trees that they wanted, so I still had to navigate the merch-choked, claustrophobic, maze that a dude my size barely fits through to the checkout.

        • Hell, the lines are often too small for my sister (4′ 11.5″- 110 fit lbs) . . . it’s like they think if you knock enough off you’ll buy it out of frustration.

    • I’ll admit to being happy with the Fred Meyer rewards system. Every $100 in spending (Kroger groceries, clothing and furnishings) maps to a 10 cent per gallon discount on decent gasoline. The card takes a quick read, so it costs little in time, and the quarterly rewards (1% in discount once you’ve hit $500 in purchases) is well worthwhile.

      They offer 2X (sometimes 4X) fuel points for gift cards. When I have a need for something from Home Desperate (which is frequently), I’ll have a gift card on hand. $SPOUSE does the same for the JoAnn fabric store. My last fuelup got me 70 cents off a gallon.

      It doesn’t hurt that it’s a rural area. People know each other, if only slightly, and it’s OK to chat with the checkers. We have our favorites…

  25. 11B-Mailclerk

    I was just reading a related thread on The Federalist, about “indie” versus “trad” publishing.”20BooksTo50k” is the referenced business resource for indie.

    I hadn’t realized the whole “kill the Sad Puppies” thing had spread to other theaters of conflict.

    Apparently, some folks are making a very good living “indie”. Sometimes the best payback is simply living well. (Especially while outliving the dipsticks.)

    http://thefederalist.com/2019/03/04/indie-sci-fi-authors-upending-traditional-publishing-turned-war/

  26. I want to register here that the bookstores I remember from my youth in the early 1970’s were disappointing too. Oh, my folks knew where the good used bookstores were, and that’s mostly where we went. But I remember going into early ‘70’s mall bookstores are being unable to find a goddamned thing because they apparently sheved by publisher’s middle initial. And, no, it wasn’t that I was a kid and couldn’t deal with alphabetical by author’s last name; I was a veteran of many library systems by that time. I never had much trouble finding anything in a library.

    It got better in the latter part of the decade, and the ‘80’s were pretty good. Then it started to go downhill again.

  27. 1995 through 2004 (give or take a year) was the period when almost all my book buying was done in used bookstores. I lived in various places around southwestern Ohio, and there were four Half Price Books locations within easy driving distance. If you’ve never been to a HPB, you have my sympathies. As big as a Borders Superstore, but all used books. Every trip there was like an archaeological expedition – you never knew what out-of-print relics of a bygone era you might find. Lots and lots of old SF/F. I was deeply into evolutionary theory and palaeontology at the time, too, and used-bookstores gave the only chance of finding those lovely old science books that went out of print twenty, thirty, forty years ago, not to mention slightly-outdated college textbooks at $5 or $10 apiece.

    I know – if nobody buys new books then where will used-bookstores get their stock? But c’mon! Two or three times the number of books for the same amount of money, and better books too! Who could ask for anything more?

    • “…if nobody buys new books then where will used-bookstores get their stock?”

      Recycling, just like the electricity companies do. They send electricity down a wire – and then take it right back with another wire!

      • …then they sell you the same electricity, over and over!

        Like Dave Barry said, “How many people actually examine their electricity anyway?”

  28. Christopher M. Chupik

    Makes me wonder what the future evolution of the used bookstore will be. Maybe people selling and buying used books from home via social media? Assuming there’s no one doing that already.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Just bought some used books via Amazon. 😉

      • You notice how few 1 cent used books are out there, now? Used to be you could get a passel of books used at .01 + 3.99 shipping – but now the used book prices are all rising, too. So either shipping is eating the profit of the “shipping” price, or the market can now bear higher book prices as used competes against indie, or both.

        • I wouldn’t know, since I use the “price plus shipping” sorting, but about three to five bucks with tax is what I usually pay.

          …yes, several of the used books guys charge tax. Yes, most places I’ve lived, they shouldn’t. No idea what is up, I don’t care, I’m going with price on Amazon and if that means Goodwill starts shifting books to untaxed outlets then that is FREAKING AWESOME.

    • Look at Amazon associates and affiliates.

      They’re a much better marketplace than, for instance, the ‘bay.

    • Amazon does that too. Or works as the middleman, anyway.

  29. John Patterson

    In Portugal since ’88, so beach books for tourists was what you can get. Then an American friend opened a bookstore with new and used books. So years of Elmore Leonard, Spenser for Hire, as well as too many very forgettable “thrillers” and police procedurals.
    Then one day, Instapundit had a piece from a Sarah Hoyt, and a link to Fallen Angels. The great thing about ebooks is you can read them at work. Now that’s all I buy. And a used Kindle reader for outside. I’m old but love the new stuff.

    • John Patterson

      Fallen Angels led to all the other Baen authors, including the entire Honorverse.

      • I tried to post this earlier today on a different comment, but it fits here:
        Way back when I was working at the airport, an online acquaintance who was a huge Niven/Purnelle fan (and sold used books on amazon as a sideline, also sewing stuff) was all a twitter over some new thing, and linked to Fallen Angels in the Free Library and she was reading 1632. After reading many of the freebies, I pretty much stopped buying from anyone else, and after my selling off most of my books for food (and really only the Bean stuff survived) I went fully ebooks.
        The last book I bought was a used hardcover of Footfall that I found at the Half Price Books in Burleson, TX. right after it opened.

  30. When I was in high school in the 80’s, I frequented a shop called The Forbidden Planet. It was the best sci-fi and fantasy bookstore you could imagine. Plus comics (but that industry killed itself separately).

    There was vast selection to browse. Back catalogs of a wide range of authors, in print, going back to releases from the 70’s and earlier. (For example, there were dozens of Keith Laumer titles in print and he had his stroke in iirc ’72, and his popular, *readable* work was all written before that.) I blew a substantial fraction of my disposable income there. Like an armload of books every week.

    By 1990 or so, the store had moved to a new, smaller location, the book selection was about what you’d find in a supermarket, and they seemed to sell mostly comics and collectibles.

    Where did that huge in print catalog go? Once that was gone there was nothing worth buying, no depths to explore, just a trickle of new trendy garbage.

    • Where did that huge in print catalog go?
      Inventory Taxes killed them.

      • Inventory being treated as taxable was playing merry hell with the utility of University presses as far back as the 1970’s. I know because my late Father told me about it while he was still teaching at Case Western, and he moved to Iowa State in ‘79.

        In general, the government tries to do too goddamned much, and so it needs to goddamned much money. And somehow when the money is running out it’s never the nonsense that gets the axe.

        • knew a guy with a transmission rebuilding place. Louisiana (under Edwin Edwards) upped their inventory tax and he got audited.
          “It’s all scrap” sold it as such, and closed the doors.
          Car dealers were soon at his house to ask him to do jobs for them, cash.
          A lot of Mercedes and Chevy trannys were done in his garage “as a favor to a friend”

  31. Mark Steyn explains to Tucker Carlson why the publishing industry is circling the drain.


    They forgot they have to earn their cultural status and have thus squandered their inheritance.

    • That’s nearly as idiotic as condemning HUCKLEBERRY FINN because if the N word. The entire book is about race and racism, with Huck deciding that he would rather go to Hell than turn his (Black) friend in. And some thumb-sucker who should be in the ‘missing the point’ hall of fame gets his (her) knickers in a twist over a word in common usage at the time, used to make a point.

    • I have to listen to this.

  32. Where Amazon first got me was:

    1. They sold be me book 1 when I could only find book

    2. By the time I finished book 2 had been remaindered and so I bought it from Amazon despite first being interested because it was in Borders.

    3. Because book 2 was remaindered because no one bought it because Borders never put book 1 out Borders never ordered book 3 so I got it from Amazon too.

    When Amazon solidified me was:

    1. I got new book in series (that was loose I didn’t need book 1-4, detective is a good example of this) and loved it.

    2. Wanted books 1-4.

    3. Borders could order, but only 1 and 4, not 2 and 3, and it took two plus weeks.

    4. Amazon could ship 1-4 instead of just 1 and 4 in roughly the same time.

    5. Got them all at Amazon because easier.

    Even now B&N is 3-5 days if I need to order. That’s 1-3 days longer plus a trip to the store.

    It isn’t price that is killing B&N it is service.

    But, yeah, blaming Amazon is easier. Which I guess you need when someone at the back end of a website routinely can offer better service than someone standing in front of me.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      “trip to the store”.

      45 minutes to B&N vs Clicking on Amazon.com (especially when B&N doesn’t have what I want in the store). 😀

      • If Green Bay doesn’t have a B&N I’m betting the closest to me is 100 miles away.

      • looked and yep, GB has one and it is about an hour away, and the next nearest is Appleton at 83 miles away.

      • Yep, over 2 hours to the nearest B&N. I’ll Kindle, thank you.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Yep, Kindle (or other ebooks) are fastest.

          But if I want a dead tree version, ordering from Amazon is much faster than driving 45 minutes to the nearest B&N.

          And of course, if they don’t have the dead tree book, I’d still have to order it.

          So why drive to the nearest B&N? 😉

  33. forgot to check the stupid box.

  34. c4c

  35. I actually frequent B&N on a regular basis, i.e. several times a week. Most of that time is spent studying in the cafe, not buying or browsing books. I will buy the occasional book from them, mostly for my wife or daughter, not for me. They just don’t carry what I want anymore.

  36. 10 years ago, I popped into the local Chain-O-Borders to find a copy of “Hyperion”. They didn’t have it.
    I pretty much went straight on Amazon afterwards.

  37. I used to frequent a book store in Tucson many years ago, and then moved to places without one. Some years back I patronized Powell’s Books in Portland (OR) with moderate regularity, but now want no part of Portland. Local hospital volunteers have a book rack that I check when there, and Amazon does the rest for me..

    • Jeff Greason

      I can’t let a visit to the Portland area (I have family and friends there) without a trip to Powell’s. Still a great bookstore, still doing well, but I have to say that it’s lost a bit of the old character when used books were a much larger fraction of the collection. Still have books in my collection that I found there (“Adam Link” by Earl and Otto Binder comes to mind)

    • Went to college in Forest Grove, c. 2001. Powell’s was one of my favorite parts of the city. 😁

  38. Carrington Dixon

    Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, i had the good fortune to grow up in day-trip distance of what was then the biggest bookstore west of the Mississippi, Cokesbury, Dallas. Imagine the biggest B&N you ever visited and stocked with hardcover books only. No tchotchkes, no games, no music, no paperbacks (those were at the big newsstand down the street). Yes, they stocked F&SF, the big publishers like Doubleday and the small ones like Gnome and Arkham.
    Time passed and I went off to college and to war. When I got back to the Dallas area, Cokebury had moved to the suburbs and into a building less than have the old size. I think they moved and shrank a couple more times before then end. I think their last storefront was smaller than my house.

  39. Jeff Greason

    The level of what had to happen to make me stop buying and reading new SF was so staggering, that only boiling the frog slowly would do it, and only after the first Puppies publicized it did I start digging for new authors by word of mouth and get back in to it.

    I am a fast reader (started Dune in the library at lunch, finished it at home by midnight), and one of those people who would read the cereal box if nothing else was available. Read what was in the library, bought used paperbacks, trips to the used bookstore were a special treat, but could often find things at Goodwill. Even subscribed to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine back in the day. That behavior lasted through the 80’s. In college, time for leisure reading diminished greatly but I more than made up for it with non-fiction. Out of college, keeping up with technical advances made me switch more and more to reading technical papers and journals, and when I decided to get in to aerospace as a career switch, that expanded again. (When asked how I learned this rocket stuff, part of my answer is “Read the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets from volume 1, issue 1 of the Journal of the American Rocket Society through today”). But I kept visiting bookstores … and … well … I must have picked a bad one … hmm … none of the authors I’ve heard of, but the cover painting’s nice and … didn’t grab me … and … I guess maybe I’ve outgrown it? But no .. I keep finding authors I hadn’t read from earlier periods and just *loving* them … maybe I’m just too busy? By the mid 90’s I had essentially stopped buying any modern work, just new prints of older works that were new to me (didn’t discover H. Beam Piper until then, for example).

    It wasn’t until the ~2010 period that I noticed that I’d essentially stopped reading just for fun, except for rereading old favorites. Then I read this post by some author I’d never heard of “My Name is Inigo Montoya” — and bought this book, “Darkship Thieves” and said “Hey… .this reading SF .. it’s FUN! Right … it’s supposed to be FUN!”. Then one led to another, and another, and … well I’m still very far from my old book-a-day habit (lucky to get 3 a month), because I’ve got ~100 pages/day of techical paper and textbooks to get through. But I’m buying new work, and reading new work, and gosh if it’s not just as much fun as it ever was. How I’d missed it so.

    “It’s great to be back!”

  40. Around the time you’re talking about, I was living in Oregon, so I could go to Powell’s bookstore, where the science fiction and fantasy section alone was larger than most books stores (and almost as large as the average B&N store).
    I was buying stuff off of Amazon then, but it wasn’t books. It was pretty much everything -but- books, because I had Powell’s to go to.
    But I noticed it was starting to get harder to find things there around 2000 when I finally moved out of the area.
    About a year after that, when I realized that finding a lot of things at B&N was difficult, if not impossible, I started buying on Amazon. But it wasn’t until about four years ago when I stopped going to B&N or any book store completely.
    It’s sad, but in California at least, the state did everything it could to put bookstores out of business, and in the northern part of the state the succeeded 100 percent among the smaller bookstores and the used bookstores. Very very sad.

    • Jeff Greason

      Yep … no matter the merits or lack thereof of the work, this is pretty spooky to have it simply … vanish. I mean, “Mein Kampf” is in print, “The Communist Manifesto” is in print, “What Happened” is in print. And yet …. *poof*

      • I swear we’re working on something that will be an alternative.
        But my guess is that the charge brought against the book was copyright infringement, because this is how it’s been done in the past.
        Usually comes back within two weeks. But it is annoying.

  41. George Wilson

    I only occasionally darken B&N’s door these days. When we were raising the boys we went quite often. Everybody got a book, with words to read, not pictures or comic books. They used to have a lot of comfortable chairs, not so these days. I’d get several books and read a few pages to see if it grabbed me. Sigh. No more. They changed, not me.

  42. We have 2 independent book stores in San Diego, Warwick’s in La Jolla, which has been in business for about a century. Half the store is stationery and knick-knacks. The other half is a fair selection of books. Their display tables actually have representatives of both sides of the political spectrum. SF and Mystery are small sections, but all big 5 (4, 3, 2, 1 …) publishers, so useless to me. I did get my re-pubbed Hornblower collection there though.

    I do fondly remember “The Amber Unicorn” from the mid 70’s. They carried SF, and were knowledgeable enough to give valuable recommendations as well as pleasant conversation. Turned me on to Patricia McKillip, and Joan Vinge.

  43. Video killed the radio star.

  44. I think part of the problem here is that publishers and bookstores had divergent interests.

    Bookstores wanted to sell books and make money (not necessarily off the books themselves, if they break even but you make a mint selling coffee you win).

    Publishers wanted to make money publishing, but they also want prestige and the power to shape culture. And they don’t particularly care about being respected by casual book buyers who don’t even know what imprints are “good,” they want the respect of the “right” people.

    Publishers, being upstream, got a lot of the decision making power, and booksellers had to roll with it. You could sell what they were printing, or you could transition to used books, but there was no third option.

    Today, there kinda is. You could run an indie bookstore and stock print on demand indie authors. Your curation becomes part of what people are paying for; they don’t have time to keep up with the near infinite indie catalog, but a seller has incentive to pull the good stuff. Will anyone try? Hell if I know, but it’s a free idea.

    • The booksellers let them make the decision, and chose to hire book reps who didn’t read.
      But other than that, right on target.
      Also look up espresso (however spelled) machines which instantly print and bind books.

      • Wasn’t sure how much influence stores had over the whole thing. Writing is my fifth career, and I’m just getting into it, but I’m pretty sure I still have Crown Books receipts as bookmarks somewhere in my house.

        • How much influence… hoo boy, that’s a very long answer that we’d have to go back to the 1970’s to explain in depth. But is too long, will try to sum up.
          Publishing is a three-tiered industry: The major publishers (there are 5 left?), the distributors (there are two big ones left?), and the bookstores. The distributors used to stock all the gas station spinner racks as well as handle the indie book stores, and were very responsive to regional tastes and indie requests. When they collapsed, the survivors leveraged the chain power of Borders & B&N’s ordering to the net to simplify their stock nationwide. (Thor Power Tools vs. Commisioner, how you have effed up so many industries!)

          At which point the spinner racks went away, and the indies were screwed – because they could basically order what the big book store buyers were ordering, and the distributors were therefore stocking. Even the grocery stores started reflecting only what the distributors carried, which was what the big book store buyers deemed profitable via ordering to the net. (To err is human. To really eff up and sink your industry takes computers.)

          So at this point, an indie bookstore has about as much leverage with the distributor as a single restaurant has against their food service distributor, and as little influence with the publisher as a single restaurant has with the actual manufacturer.

          Which is not to say none- Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis can swing a heck of a lot of influence, just like a high-end restaurant that plates 8,000 meals/day or more can swing heavy influence on what wines the local distributor brings in, and what foods they carry. And if several chefs decide they’re going to make a concerted effort to promote, say, Copper River salmon as single-sourced, free range, antibiotic-free, wild-caught, non-GMO fish, then they can actually make the seafood processor go “Wow, we’re getting hefty orders in Seattle and Portland for Copper River Salmon; we’ll market it as a separate salmon line from the others, and pitch the concept to California & New York”, then you get a swing in the market. (Bless you, PNW chefs! You brought a lot more money to some struggling fishermen by making Copper River Salmon a distinct marketable good like Black Angus beef!)

          But this takes attention to customer base, hand-selling, and working with the distributors. And unfortunately, in the publishing industry, the success is often gauged on the first 6 weeks sales, so the distributor is neither accustomed to late-release surges, not very respondent to them. Food service is much, much more responsive to fads / market demand than publishing…. because the farmers and manufacturers are out to make a living, unlike the darlings in NYC playing at being gatekeepers. And if you’re a mostly-used-book small shop? No influence at all. In fact, you get penalized by the distributors on returns and ordering, because you don’t have the economic clout of B&N.

    • I would have believed that — until I started finding stories on various “:deplorable” websites about whole mailing lists / blogs / newsfeeds devoted to B&N, B Dalton’s (those that were left), etc. bragging about moving conservative books to places they couldn’t be found, refusing to order them, refusing to unpack them, telling conservative “knuckle-dragging racists” they didn’t carry trash like that, etc.

      No, if the publishers went in that direction, they had hundreds of willing followers to help.

  45. I need to find the digital camera and get a picture

    Our drama of the week:
    I got the kids a camera.
    This is about six months after my mom GAVE them a very good camera, her old Nikon Coolpix. A camera which inspired at LEAST two different actually making money careers in photography.
    And which looked at the cheapest, smallest SD card I could find, choked, and fell on the floor screaming.

    I upgraded it for less than the tiny SD card it currently has cost when it was new, and this nearly-disposable camera has three times the resolution, doesn’t have a mechanical zoom (oddly, a benefit for kid use) and came with a protective cover. It’s also (supposedly) waterproof to 15 ft and shockproof, possibly because it’s 90% plastic casing and anything important is isolated inside.

  46. Christopher M. Chupik

    I’m old enough to remember when supermarkets had a fairly extensive selection of paperbacks available. Not just the same dozen bestselling authors, but a wide variety. Gave me lots to look at while Mom was doing all the boring shopping stuff.

    • My local supermarket had, until very recently, a fair sized selection of paperbacks. Many had cowboys on the covers, others had fireman; apparently not many of those guys could afford shirts. And yeah, there was a fair amount of bestselling authors (i.e., names I sorta kinda recognized.)

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        Shirts are very expensive, especially for hunky guys. I think the sales ladies hike the prices whenever they appear.

    • Fred Meyer has a good selection of hard backs, but the 20+ linear feet of SFF is dreary at best. I gave up on the magazines when Sky and Telescope became hard to find. (Canadian S&T version shows up occasionally, but Astronomy just doesn’t appeal.)

  47. I don’t even remember when this was, how long ago. Less than 15 years but more than 10… I’d discovered Sarah. I was excited by this new author so I went to a book store and asked for books by Sarah. They didn’t have any. They didn’t have any of the books by any authors that I asked about specifically.

    I don’t think Amazon was huge, not as huge as it is now, but there was the internet and therefore social media and therefore… I was looking for specific authors and specific books.

    I had never done that before.

    And that happened before the dominance of Amazon. Not after.

  48. And yet, I agree, by 2003 bookstores in trouble.

    At some point before April of ’99, they were in trouble.
    Because in April of ’99 (I know because it was my First Big Car Drive Alone, a whole like 35 minutes over the local pass) I was standing in the nearest Walmart, looking through the books, holding one and thinking of an article I’d read online that said something abouthow the scifi section at Walmart had shrunk to almost nothing. (It was like 90% Western and sweet Romance, and they were notable for actually ordering what sold at THAT store. That changed about five years later when they became “super.” In fairness, that’s because they changed to cater to the Canadian customers– and it works, now half the customers are Canadian, and there ARE more of them.)

    I then went to our standard used bookstore, and walked out with our usual two big paper bags of used books. (One memorable time, we walked out with each adult holding two bags, and each kid holding one, and a few in hand besides.) That guy was totally autistic, and last I heard had moved his shop into his house in the middle of town and the landlord…now has an empty spot there. Brilliant!

    • Amsel, Matthew

      You’re near the border, I take it?

      • That was Omak and Okanogan, Washington.

        Devil if I remember the name of the store, but it was the guy with the crew-cut and the constant startled expression who always acted like you might try to jump across the counter at him, as mousy a six-plus-foot dude as you’ve ever met, but really sweet. Across from what use to be the KFC.

  49. The Cincinnati tri-state area has had at one time or another a big chain bookstore at every mall B&N, Brookstone, et al. But the big Borders at the regional mall closed long ago — before the chain went down. What happened there? Did Half Price Books kill the chains? My peak reading experience came in the ’80s with Walden Books, which I remember back to the ’60s. I’d go in there the weekend after payday and would regularly drop $50-$60. Books were (and remain) my entertainment mainstay. Walden had a newsletter for F/SF fans, a discount card, eager, knowledgeable salespeople, and I do not understand why it didn’t thrive. I certainly don’t blame Amazon, for all I buy nearly ALL my books there, and have since they opened.

    • Borders committed suicide with ordering to the net. I.e. applied over a large number of stores it gave publishers the control over who’d make it. So publishers stocked it with preachy books.
      Unexpectedly! the store didn’t carry anything anyone wanted to read. Eh.

  50. So, I went to B&N fairly recently (weekend before last), and…what do I want to get?

    I have everything I could reasonably want there. New sci-fi? What doesn’t make me cringe makes me face-palm. I glanced through young-adult books, and the characters in all of them are vaguely sociopath “woke” that have to complain about everything and being anything other than “woke” is seen as High Treason For The Patriarchy.

    Comic books? I have to order trade paperbacks because the local comic book store won’t pull anything in that I’m even remotely interested in. And, at the rate things are going, if Marvel isn’t turned into a vanity plate for IDW in the next year to eighteen months, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

    And movies? I’m going to see “Alita” again this weekend, because there is no way that I am going to spend anything, even my limited time on this Earth, watching “Captain Marvel,” which had done nothing to interest me or even make me wants to do a hate watch of it.

    But, on Amazon, I can find books that I might like. Quite a few that I’ve tried one or two and gone “nah,” and wished they had someone to whack them in the head and edit them better. Movies I haven’t seen anywhere in years. TV shows I haven’t seen in years.

    Amazon.com didn’t kill bookstores. It’s the decisions made in New York, London, and Hollywood that killed bookstores. They’re the murderers.

  51. At least here in the Twin Cities we have Uncle Hugo’s (SF/F/horror) / Uncle Edgar’s (horror/mystery/contemporary action) with all the latest new releases and literally *tons* of used stuff including back issues of several pulp magazines. http://www.unclehugo.com/prod/ Yes, they do mail order. Still going (if not necessarily strongly) after 45 years. So popular that sometimes people are literally breaking in in the middle of the night. (If the proprietor hadn’t come in for reason that night, their ‘visitor’ would have died from asphyxiation.)

  52. Speaking of publishing, my latest ANALOG came two weeks ago, and I started with the short-short stories. Started a new story on pg 112, and you’ll likely be as surprised as I was to hear that the next page was pg 144–and upside down. Goes backward to pg 113, and then pages 145 to the end are right-side-up. One HAS to wonder what kind of hiccup the binding machine had.

  53. Pingback: Who puts the books in the book book book-a shop? | Mad Genius Club

  54. I don’t think that traditional publishing houses really cared to understand voracious readers. Especially genre fans. They wanted that massive NYT Bestseller. That book you find in every drugstore, supermarket and airport store. I will read that book if it has at least a little to appeal to me. I will read mediocre science fiction before a best selling police procedural. Before always having a smartphone with kindle in my pocket I would need something to read on the bus. So sometimes I would end up with a Tom Clancy or whatever. I spent around a $1000 a year on books. Less now thanks to kindle unlimited. I only bought 2-3 so called bestsellers a year never in hardback. I would however buy a good Sci-Fi or fantasy author in hardback if I started the series that way. Most of my purchases would be considered mid-list authors. No chance of a hard back release for them. You had to hope that the their series’s would be completed and that you would find it all. Almost all of the successful Indie authors in sci-fi would be considered mid-list material. I feel that traditional publishers and the big bookstores considered them fillers to put on the shelf while waiting for the next big thing but they amounted to over 90% of my spending. Hearing how those authors were treated by traditional publishing makes me feel upset. I am glad that authors can now make an honest living based on their own work not what some gate keeper decides.

    • And we’re glad too.

    • That’s the trouble, basically – they wanted that Super-Massive Blockbuster NYT best seller, and devoted every energy towards finding and promoting just that. And only that. No others need apply. Not solid mid-list, quirky regionals, not unfavored genres (like … ahem … Westerns).
      They went like Hollywood did – instead of spreading a bunch of small bets on a variety of books and authors … they piled all onto That One Sure Thing.