Dear indie booksellers who hate e-readers and feel the need to rant about it on the internet and/or post snotty signs in your bookshop telling people who have e-readers to piss off:
Hey, I understand that you feel a little salty toward e-readers. It must feel like a kick in the teeth when someone sidles up to one of your cafe tables (never mind that they just spent money buying coffee in your establishment, and probably paid a premium) and pulls out an electronic book device. I mean, you sell books, but not those kinds of books. Whipping out a Kindle in an indie bookstore is a bold statement that says, “I prefer not to buy my books at this shop, but I’ll sit here and taunt them with the lost revenue as I tap through my book of choice.” It’s no wonder that you feel the need to speak out against e-readers, which are clearly ruining your ability to survive in today’s market.
You must, however, suppress that urge at all costs. No, really, I mean it: your customers and followers must never know how much you revile e-readers.
There’s been an unfortunate trend lately of indie booksellers unleashing their rage, maybe not directly at people reading ebooks (although in some cases, yes, directly at them), but in the general direction of e-reading persons. I’ve seen blog posts, tweets, photos of signs in bookshops, actual signs in bookshops, and Facebook posts that all have a general theme: if you like to read on a plastic screen, you can stay right the hell out of my small bookshop. Being an unapologetic Kindle-owner, my response to this kind of missive is short and not-very-sweet:
And also, I’m making a mental note to do exactly what you suggest: I’m going to stay the hell out of your store, and I’m probably going to tell all of my friends to do the same. Not because you want me to stay away, but because I don’t want to spend any of my dollars (which, in case you haven’t noticed, are in shorter supply these days) at a shop that seems to feel entitled to my business–to the point of very nearly telling me to fuck off because, sometimes, I like to read on my e-reader. I really don’t appreciate being told how I should and shouldn’t read, and I definitely don’t want to be made to feel unwelcome in an establishment where I might have spent money, only, they don’t like a gadget that I sometimes use and felt the need to get shitty with me about it.
How else am I supposed to react to this? Yes, please, take ALL OF MY MONEY; I love it when my shopping experiences feel like I’ve wandered back to junior high. Professionalism, pffft, who needs that? No, I need a good healthy dose of shaming with my purchase, please, and if you can muster it up, I’ll also take a side of passive-aggression.
I’m honestly baffled by this attitude. I suppose it stems from the idea that, if I own a Kindle, I’m very unlikely to buy a low-tech paper copy, so you’re not going to get my business either way–may as well take out your frustrations, then, amirite? I don’t know where that idea came from, but it’s so false. If I am in your bookshop to begin with, I’m halfway to purchasing something. I may not even know it, I may not have come in with buying something in mind, but I am on the cusp of making a purchase just by virtue of walking in the door. People like to own things, and book-lovers especially love to own books. (Yes, yes, there are some e-reader owners who don’t get into book-hoarding the way the rest of us do . . . I think those people are far less likely to darken your doorstep.) Given the ridiculously high prices of ebooks, I’m quite likely to buy a book from you if I see a book in your shop that I really, really want; for just a little bit more, I can have a tangible item that I could later resell or trade for another book, or, failing that, I can add it to my collection and pet it every now and then. Plus, there’s a powerful magic in walking out of a bookshop with a brand-new book that charms even a proud ebook-reader.
So, where’s the disconnect? Why aren’t we buying books from you instead of loading up our e-readers? Well, there are a few factors. Price is a huge one to overcome–I, frankly, don’t buy many books these days period, we’re in a recession and the days of my blowing $50 every payday at the bookstore are over for awhile. (Y’all aren’t the only ones suffering, you know? Every purchase has to count now.) I’m far less likely to buy books on a whim, which means those displays better be working overtime to catch my attention. Lack of selection often gets me (like, a lot of the indie shops here don’t have a full selection of indie press books.. even the indie press that is in town, wtf? I would shop local indie bookshops far more often if they took a page from Farley Bookshop’s playbook and had a decent indie press stock). These, already, are significant obstacles to overcome; if you add in “judgmental about how I choose to read my books” on top of that, you can basically guarantee that I’m never shopping at your store again.
And I would have. I want to impress that upon you–I would have spent mad money at your bookshop. Maybe not today. But if I came into a little un-earmarked money? If I needed to shop for holidays, birthdays, gifts? When I wanted a copy of a book and I didn’t want to wait or pay $15 for a brand-new ebook (especially now that Amazon is getting a little bit leaner with its shipping that is guaranteed to arrive on launch day–the last couple of times I pre-ordered books, they came about a week later because I didn’t pay extra. CAPITALIZE ON THAT, INDIE BOOKSELLERS)? When I could have, I would have. Now that you’ve been unspeakably rude about my personal reading choices, I won’t. Simple as that. I can forgive prices being higher than I’d like; I can forgive you sometimes not having the small press book I want to read in stock; I can’t forgive you making it personal with me over my e-reader.
Stop writing us off. A lot of us swing both ways when it comes to book formats, but we’re not happy about buying books from people who look down their noses at us. If you’re already struggling–and why would you be bitter about it if business were booming? I guess you could be on principle, which is even more irritating in its presumptuousness–you can’t afford to turn me away because I own a device that you don’t like. I mean, it’s your store at the end of the day; if you’d rather go down with the ship because you hate e-readers that goddamn much, or you’d rather make less money because you don’t want filthy e-reader-having people shopping at your establishment, it’s your call. All I’m saying is, we all love books, okay? Don’t alienate me for a personal choice. We’re all on the same side here.
I bet we both hate Dan Brown, too.
A customer who finds you hard to love, but is willing to keep trying if you’ll meet me in the middle