Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shopping at Borders

I stop by the physical bookstore maybe once a month. I admit, I have a certain fondness for paper (despite my affinity for computers and video games) and there's nothing quite like adding to the stacks of books on my shelves. I wish they were better organized, but that's a different issue.

This was my first time at the bookstore since reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's observations about bookstores. My local bookstore of choice is part of the Borders chain, which unfortunately is working through a bankruptcy at the moment. It's not in danger of being immediately shut down, but I'm concerned that a couple years from now it won't be there. There isn't a single indie bookstore that sells new books in the entire city, so when this Borders goes, I'm likely to have to do all my shopping online.

I first started shopping at this Borders as a senior in high school, which was about the same time that the B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks started to disappear from malls. At the age I was though, I didn't think much of it. As long as I could get the books I wanted, which was usually fairly often, I didn't have a problem with where I shopped.

After reading Kris's article though, and planning my most recent trip to Borders, I realized that I had a rather bizarre habit.

I dislike driving to the bookstore and not finding what I want, so I've developed a habit of checking online whether or not a potential half dozen books I'd be interested in were inventory. That way I know whether or not the trip would be a waste. I do like browsing the shelves to see if I find anything interesting just by happenstance, but I don't like leaving empty-handed.

I've actually starting picking up manga as stop-gaps if the novels I want aren't available, because a popular manga series will generally have various volumes in stock, and if one volume of a series I'm reading is missing I can probably find the next volume I need of a different one. (Sadly, I'm now facing a different problem where I'm getting far enough in various series that it's less likely the volume I want is in the store.)

I didn't used to do this. I remember in high school I could go to a bookstore and find nearly all the books from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series in stock. These days she occupies half the shelf she used to and there isn't nearly as much of the older Pern material (mostly the newer stuff with her son Todd). I imagine other authors' shelf spaces have shrunk as well. If it's not relatively new, it's not on the shelf.

I've been wanting to start reading Naomi Novik's Teremaire series, but had some trouble finding the first book in stock. How a bookseller expects to market book six without book one available I don't know, but His Majesty's Dragon had been on my "I hope to find it in stock one of these days" lists for a while.

Finally, I found it... as part of a boxed set containing the first three books. It was a score as far as I was concerned (I'd read a sample of the book already so I had a reasonable sense that I could gamble on three books and enjoy them all), but still a little annoying that the book just hadn't been there, on its own, months ago. I would have bought it months ago as well if it'd been there.

I can't really pinpoint why a bookstore's selection seems so much worse than in previous years. Borders does have a section of the store devoted to Kobo, but the science fiction and fantasy rows don't feel that much smaller. Though, I admit the tie-in portion is a lot bigger than before.

That makes me wonder, just as a wild idea, if perhaps the future of printed books will be in franchises.