The problem with book stores

I like book stores, and I was pretty bummed out when Shaman Drum closed up in Ann Arbor in the spring.  In my estimation, it was clearly the best bookstore in the area and one of the best academic/independent bookstores in the country.  And I also like the “big box” stores like Barnes and Noble and Ann Arbor’s own Borders for the variety, all the extras (CDs, coffee shops, etc.), and, of course, books.

Still, there is a reason why Borders (and I presume Barnes and Noble, right?) are losing money hand over fist and why I end up spending a lot more money on books at amazon.com nowadays.

I went into Borders today while running some errands to buy Crossing the Finish Line:  Completing College at America’s Public Universities and The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. Initially, I can’t find anyone who actually works there to help me, so I head to the computer system to look up the Crossing the Finish Line book.  I learn the book is “likely” in the store in the “Education and Parenting” section, though I have no clue where the “Education and Parenting” section is in the store.   So I wander around for a while (is it near psychology?  self-help? business?), and I finally find someone, who tells me it’s back in the children’s section.  I find the shelf, which is a mish-mosh of books on stuff like potty training, Hirsch’s “cultural literacy” books, and high schools today, and remarkably, I do find this book (which is a somewhat controversial book about graduation rates at universities in the U.S.) stuck in there.  So I picked it up, comfortable enough with the $27.95 price.

Then I decided to look for the other book.  Again, I tried it on the computer system, but the answer I got was confusing, so I asked for some help from the person who helped before.  She actually logged into a completely different computer system and was able to find the book, which was in the store (though not anywhere close to the children’s section).  But it was priced at $40, and I knew that I could get it on amazon.com for $26.40, and it wasn’t going to cost $13 to ship it.  So I took a pass on that.  And in hindsight, I should have left Crossing the Finish Line on the shelf too because I would have saved $10 buying that via amazon.com.

Oh, and just to add to it, there was but one cashier at the register, so it took me about 10 minutes just to pay my bill.

So, let’s review:

  • Buying online would have been faster, easier, cheaper, and more convenient, by far.
  • It would have been easier to find what I was looking for online.
  • On the other hand, actually going to the store allowed me to communicate with a human and to make an impulse buy (in this case, a different anthology of comics).  That’s certainly a plus of “real world” shopping, but it’s also one of the reasons why I wish Shaman Drum was still open.
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