Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Purchases by Store

So come September, Borders is no longer. It's the victim of changes to the book-buying industry, which has gone progressively digital (as well as the victim, apparently, of too aggressive of an expansion earlier in the 2000s). It's one of the two brick-and-mortar new bookstores where I live; soon, only Barnes & Noble will be left, unless one counts the college bookstore. (This just in, however: a new indie is due to open soon.)

This got me to thinking regarding my own collection of books and where I've done my purchasing. I was going to guess that most of my books came from used bookstore outlets (the result, in part, of a four-year stint without access to a library), with Amazon another large contender. The statistics, however, surprised me.

I didn't survey my whole collection, as it would have taken too much time. But I selected two shelves of general nonfiction and two shelves of fiction and wrote out where each book came from. Here are the results:

Nonfiction B-G

Nonfiction H-W

Fiction D-G

Fiction G-K

So what did I learn? That most of my books I actually purchased new--they weren't remainders, weren't used, weren't freebies from work, and weren't gifts. I also learned that most of the new books I own came from bookstores, not from Amazon.

But then I began to suspect that the statistics might be somewhat skewed. After all, Amazon has only been a real viable entity for a decade. Maybe most of my books predate Amazon. And maybe, I thought, most of my new books, were purchased during the five-plus years I worked for an independent bookstore. So I decided to break the new books down by place of purchase to see, and here are the results for nonfiction and fiction:

Indeed, after reviewing the list of stores I purchased books at, I have confirmed that most of the fiction was picked up while I was an employee at Hunter's books, which also coincided with my days in college. The college bookstore served as the source for most nonfiction, Hunter's as the source for most fiction. Other stores, including Borders, make up only a small slice of my purchasing. As we go forward, Amazon will likely pick up more of my personal library's share.

But that also caused me to reflect on the nature of bookstores themselves and what I like. I used to prefer the superstores, or a large indie. This was because they had the largest selection, and twenty years ago, that is what a good bookstore in my view could do--give me any Kerouac, Nabokov, Scott Bradfield, etc., book I wanted. But I worked in a bookstore, and I wanted to be able to purchase these things.

Now, with Amazon, a large selection no longer seems so important. I go in stores now and feel lost if they're really large. First, despite their size, they rarely stock the (full) work of some of the authors I care for. Second, as someone who no longer knows the week's best-sellers and the books that got the best reviews in the New York Times, I'm lost because there are just so many new books to choose from, and a lot of them things I'd care not one whit about. But with regard to the first, I can always order the book from Amazon if I want it that badly. And with regard to the second, I don't need a large bookstore anymore in which to browse. I find, rather, that I prefer a smaller store with a limited selection that matches my own taste. If I go in, and the store stocks mostly John Grisham novels and the like, I know it's not my sort of place; however, if I go in, and there are a couple of really good books I've heard about in recent years prominently displayed, I have a feeling I can trust the book buyer's taste, and suddenly, I'm back to the old days where bookstores excited, because I know that each book in there is a possible great discovery.

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