Wednesday, February 1, 2012

To buy a book

"There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love." - Christopher Morley

Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series.

Yesterday's post described a strange transaction.  Short version: I went into a book store intending to buy nothing.  I bought a book before I left.

Question: Why did I buy a book when my intent was to buy nothing?

a.  The lady behind the counter held a gun to my head.
b.  The book store owner had said she wouldn't carry any of my books if I didn't buy any books from her.
c.  The cover was orange.
d.  The reviews on, which I surreptitiously checked on my smart phone while standing there, were overwhelmingly positive.
e.  Somebody named Steve said it was good.

Answer:  Nah, not gonna make it that quick & easy.  Instead, I'll ask you to bear with me for a bit.

So, the "lady" has a name, and as I recall it's Heather.  Actually, that's a stretch of the truth--as I look it up on their Facebook page is more accurate.  Hey, I can barely remember my own name much of the time, and I'm horrible with others' names.  Regardless, she held no gun that I could see, nor did she threaten in any other way.  Nor was there any bribery or extortion involved in the talk done by Kelly, the owner.  I mean, in her talk she did suggest that we as authors just might wanna consider supporting local bookstores, but there's a big jump from there to an evil requirement for mutual back-scratching.

So no, a and b are incorrect.

What about option c?  Nope, I don't like orange that much.  In truth, I don't like it at all.  The bright day-glow cover did cause me to notice the book, certainly, but I sure as hell didn't pull money out of my pocket to purchase the book based on a brightly-colored cover bathed in a color I dislike. 

As for d, it's interesting.  Last December I posted about an article based on a study that found a lot of people doing the opposite, shopping in a physical bookstore and making the purchase online.  Frankly, either method, shopping physical and buying online or shopping online and buying physical, sounds like smart consumerism as both allow the buyer to take all available information into account.  I can see where that would tick bookstore owners off, though.  It's got to be no fun paying for shelf space to display products that are just going to be purchased elsewhere.

All that said, no, I didn't even touch my cell phone, smart though it may be, during the transaction.  Come to think of it, I didn't even read the back of the darn book.  That's a huge change from how I buy books at one of those big block stores with initials like B and N, by the way.  But I wasn't shopping at B, or N, or any other big block store.  Instead, I was at a store where the person was doing it right.  I was engaged in conversation.  While I glanced down at the book in my hands several times, I was more interested in talking about local books and authors with Heather than I was in focusing my attention on reading the text on the back.  I certainly wasn't about to pull out my cell phone and start researching.

Retailers of all stripes, take this into account.  Now that all the Interweb's tubes go all over the place as well as through the air into your shop, your customers have too many other ways to research and make purchases for you to avoid engaging them in the manner that they want to be engaged.  You can't stop them short of putting up cell jammers (don't laugh--I've heard it mentioned) but all that will do is cause your customers to not come to your store in the first place. 

How do you know how they want to be engaged?  Well, you could ask.  Come to think of it, I don't recall the folks at Borders ever asking me what I was looking for in a book store experience.  Or you could do it like the report I read in the NYT yesterday ( said Barnes & Noble is doing it:

Last year, the company expanded sections for toys and games and added shiny new display space for its Nook devices. In another sign of the digital revolution, Mr. Lynch expects to eliminate the dedicated sections for music and DVD’s within two years — while still selling some of them elsewhere in the stores. He also plans to experiment with slightly smaller stores.

Yeah, I think toys and games and shiny display space to see the Nooks is exactly what a book-purchasing customer wants.

Okay, I admit, that last sentence was a skosh sarcastic. But do you agree that maybe it's silly to give the customer what you think he wants rather than what he thinks he wants?  Oh, and--smaller stores.  There's an idea.  Let's make B&N look more like the small stores they've put out of business over the past couple of decades.  I'm sure people will buy more books then.

(Sarcasm switch is now securely in the OFF position)

Anyway, back to the question at hand: if you said e, Somebody named Steve said it was good, then I reply ding!  Ding ding ding!  Yes, Heather doesn't read that genre much, but the bookstore employee named Steve who does, apparently raves about how good that book is, and Heather pays attention.  No, I don't know Steve.  He's got a name which suggests a high level of intelligence, character, and discernment (*ahem*) but I really don't know him.  On the other hand, now that I've had the conversation at the counter, I know Heather, and Heather knows him, and that's enough to take a chance on buying the book. 

I bought it.  And I'm glad I did.  More on that, tomorrow.


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