Reading Rage Wednesday: Open letter to indie booksellers who hate e-readers.

10 October 2012 by 46 Comments
Bookstore Cat

Bookstore cat is not impressed with your e-reader.

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:

Fuck you.


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


Susie is the Bitch-in-Chief at IB and is also a contributor at Book Riot. She's an ice cream connoisseur, an art fanatic, a cat-mommy of three, and a wife. She runs the @thebooksluts Twitter account and may be slightly addicted.

46 thoughts on “Reading Rage Wednesday: Open letter to indie booksellers who hate e-readers.

  1. I don’t get this attitude, either. I work at a small (tiny) indie bookstore. We sell e-books on our website, and offer tutorials to customers on how to download them if they’re new to e-reading. We’ve made plans to stock Kobos soon. The e-books aren’t a HUGE part of our revenue, but indie bookstores really should at least give their customers the OPTION, or risk losing the customers. Business is business.

    However, if you walk into my store and sit down in the middle of the floor and start reading your Kindle, you’re telling ME to fuck off, and I’ll probably ask you to leave. If you want a cozy spot to read on your Amazon-machine, go to the library.

    • Hmm. I mean, idk. I was a bookseller myself, but I don’t think I would ask someone to leave for reading on an e-reader/Kindle.. if for no other reason than, they might come back another time and buy one of my books if I leave them be, but if I throw them out, they won’t ever buy books from me. Unless they were coming in every day and never, ever buying something, but that’s a loitering issue. It’s kind of rude* of a person to do so, but I think I’d bite my tongue.

      *Unless you have a cafe, in which case, I can understand them wanting to read the book they’re in the middle of with their coffee. Unless it’s free coffee. Then I am conflicted. CONFLICTED.

      • We don’t have a cafe, but we do have a book club meeting area thing? Like a big table off in a corner? People sometimes hang out there, but we’ve never had anyone plop down with a Kindle (I wouldn’t care about other e-readers, but our e-books don’t run on Kindles so they wouldn’t buy e-books from us either way). The only time I’ve had to talk to someone is when a customer was openly using us as a storefront for Amazon. Like, telling other customers, HEY I JUST LOOKED THIS UP ON AMAZON IT’S CHEAPER YOU SHOULD BUY IT THERE. I left them alone for 20 minutes, but then I just told him that we weren’t a storefront for the competition, and he could do that on his own time. Then he decided to leave. If Rude Kindle Guy was making it obvious that he had no intention of buying from us (interfering w/ other customers, coming in over and over and never buying, stuff like that), I would say something.

        • That’s kind of demented. Does he work for Amazon? Really weird.. why would he care if people could save money (which, by the time you either buy more to get free shipping or pay shipping, you don’t really)?

          • I have no idea. He ended up being a business tourist, so he wasn’t from around Richmond. He was with some other guys in suits and I THINK he was their boss, so I sort of got the impression that he was trying to impress people with his money saving prowess. Or something? If he hadn’t been so loud and pissy about it, I wouldn’t have cared what he was doing.

          • Amanda: All the ladies line up to stare when I show off my money-saving prowess. I’m all, “Come back to my place, and I’ll show you how to reinforce those falling-apart sneakers with duct tape,” and she’s all “Swoon!”

  2. Did it ever occur to people that we might not even be READING on the Kindle, iPad, nook, whatever? We might be looking up a review or looking in our library to see if we have a book already or trying to figure out the name of that author whose book we want to buy.

    And even if I am reading while sipping an overpriced latte – I guarantee that if you ask me to leave, I will NEVER come back. I’ll be embarrassed over being asked to leave, I’ll be mad as hell at you for embarrassing me and I won’t buy a damn thing from you ever again. I will also probably rant about you on Facebook and Twitter – as well as to everyone I know.

    And I spend a lot of money on books – physical ones, as well as eBooks.

    • I was thinking the same thing. I don’t have an ereader yet, but when I get one for Christmas most of my reading time will be spent at home or while I’m out waiting for something. If I’m going in a book store I’m there to purchase books, not read them. With two kids I don’t have the opportunity to just go hang out and read at the book store. So if I were to pull out the ereader, it would be to help me choose the book I’m going to be purchasing at the actual book store.

      Food for thought, indeed.

  3. Yes, it has occurred to people, which is why I (and hopefully most other booksellers) would never say anything to you unless you were being rude or disruptive to the other customers. If it’s come to the point where I have to ask a customer to leave (for example, because I know they’re storefronting and I’ve seen them do it before), I’m doing so with a mind that you DON’T come back.

    • Unfortunately, some sellers seem a little more erm.. aggressive. With my background in corporate retail, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard when I run into this kind of stuff.

  4. Applause! Applause!

    Seriously, how dare you tell me that just because I SOMETIMES supplement my reading on a Kindle, iPad, or Nook that I can’t buy your books? Screw you! I SUPPLEMENT my reading on my e-reader, but I have a overwhelming love for physical books. Very prejudiced for them to say otherwise.

    Kind of reminds me of the past when you couldn’t purchase something or go somewhere based on the color of your skin. . . It’s a little extreme of an analogy, yes, but didn’t the Holocaust begin with little signs as well?

    • I have to confess, I’m a tad bit uncomfortable going so far as to compare this to racial discrimination or potentially the Holocaust. :\ But, I do find it to be unnecessarily discriminatory, unless, as Amanda said above, the person is being really disruptive.

  5. Also, e-books are often -more- expensive than their paper versions, so, yeah, the tablet may be research about a book that you may by the hard copy of because the e-book is more. I do that a LOT.

    And, um, I’d be a lot more sympathetic to indie bookshops if they were more sympathetic to indie authors, but the experience I’ve had with that is “we don’t want your book (even if you are local), because you’re not with a big publisher.”

  6. Yeah, I don’t…I do most of my own reading on my reader, so if I head to a bookshop, it’s generally to purchase a gift.

    I wouldn’t generally take my reader out and start reading in the store, but it would piss me off if the seller made it known that ebooks were frowned upon.

    And…there are still some titles not available digitally that I still really want to read, so you’d be losing my business anyway. Seriously, fuck off.

  7. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. This is me, buying a $16 book (Wonder – Palacio) from Books Inc because I wanted to give it to a teacher when I could have ordered it from Amazon for a fraction of the price. I love buying books from bookstores and I love my Kindle. Does anyone speak ill of libraries because it seems like a similar mentality?

  8. Yeah, if I go into a bookstore, I am gonna walk out with a book. If I walk in with my e-reader, it’s because I a) need to see if I already have that book – like, access my wish/owned list, that sort of thing and/or b) my husband tends to have a lot more stamina than I do about standing and looking around, and long before he’s done, I have to go sit down or the pain starts. So then I’ll get a coffee (if they have a coffee shop) and read whatever I have handy – my e-reader, if I have it along, or start skimming one of the books I plan to buy. If I saw a store with a shirty little “no e-reader users here” sign, I’d probably go in and read the manager the riot act about it. And demand a discount. And then buy something (so ashamed…. but I’m a bibliophile… I CAN’T HELP MYSELF!!!)

  9. What this basically comes down to is that the marketplace is changing, and these particular booksellers blame the customers for siding with Amazon over them. The customers, of course, are doing no such thing–they are simply doing what customers do, which is finding the products they want at the best combination of service, convenience, and price. I.e., “value.”

    Amazon wins on price most of the time. Convenience depends on circumstances (needing the book now versus having it delivered). Service is the one dimension in which the bookseller can totally own the game.

    Telling a large and growing portion of your clientele that you don’t like them? Not the way to win the service battle.

    • Very much this. Price can even be swayed with me if it’s convenient. If I want to read it RIGHT NOW and I can just download it over Whispernet, heck yeah I’ll buy the ebook. But if it’s something on my long list of to be read, and I find it in a bookstore for a reasonable price (or especially a thrift store) I will buy it.

  10. There’s another reason some of us made the switch to eBooks – space.

    I was at a point where I either needed another bookshelf, or an eReader.
    If I ever have to move again, the 37 books on my Kindle will be the lightest load.

  11. Totally agree with everything you said! I can completely understand that an indie bookstore would be a little disgruntled about someone sitting in their coffee shop with their Kindle, and I have to say that I’d be a little uncomfortable about whipping out the technology in somewhere like that (especially now!) but it’s so true that there’s a huge misconception about the “type of person” who owns an e-reader. I read mainly hard copy books, but will read on the Kindle from time to time, and you can feel the judgement hitting you from all angles when you take it out in public.

    Also, would store owners feel the same about someone getting out a magazine or a newspaper to read? Isn’t that really the same thing – an alternative to a book and, in their eyes, someone not spending money in their shop?

    • Right? Or a book that I purchased on Amazon, but happened to have with me? I have always diversified my book-buying.. well, except, there was one time in life where I lived in a small town that basically only had one bookstore, in the mall. BUT, I did sometimes go to the used shop and buy books there, and I used the library, so, I guess I still took in books from many sources even when I only had one purchasing option.


    I had no idea this was going on. I buy books from a bunch of different venues, so I can’t imagine being asked to leave a bookstore, or seeing a nasty sign that reads like it was written by an immature middle-schooler, because my e-reader happens to be one of those venues. I don’t understand indie booksellers complaining about business…and then alienating customers. I don’t remember learning about that business model in school.

    (Just FYI–I couldn’t sign into Twitter to post through your website…it keeps giving me an error message.)

  13. I frequently end up buying paper copies of books I first read on my e-reader and loved so much I couldn’t NOT have a physical copy – and the first place I always look are my local indies. I’ve even special-ordered when they didn’t have something I wanted on the shelf.

    I have no idea how the locals feel about e-readers, and I’m a little afraid to ask. I love them and their cat ever so.*

    *I’m convinced the cat is a secret agent. Last time I was there, I ended up buying two totally unexpected books because the cat climbed into my lap while I was browsing, and he didn’t get up until I’d already decided I couldn’t leave without the books I had merely been idling with a moment before. Well played, cat.

  14. Bizarre attitude on the part of booksellers. Do music stores toss out people with iPods? If you have an e-reader and you go into a bookstore, doesn’t that mean you are like a total reading nerd, ie. potential repeat customer? And, finally, do indie booksellers also chuck you out if they see you have a library card? Because, srsly, they’re not making any money off THAT, either.

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  16. There are ONLY indie book stores where I live so I want to test this theory. I haven’t seen any signs and no one has made a comment about them, but I want to see this attitude you speak of. I’ll update with my findings. Great post, new follower! :)

    • Thanks! Yes, report back. Some indie stores are cool with it, but some bristle quite badly when you let on that you have a (gasp) e-reader.. especially a Kindle. I can understand, since Amazon cuts into their business quite a bit.. but on the other hand, who are they to question their customers’ purchasing habits? I love my Kindle, dammit.

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  19. Are small booksellers really this aggressive towards e-readers? Maybe I’m just living in a nicer part of the world, who knows, but I’ve never seen a bookseller behaving like this (and I frequent bookshops a LOT!). I run a second-hand bookshop and regularly have conversations with customers about e-readers, but I usually let them lead. If they’re ambivalent, I tell them the truth – my sister loves hers, but I didn’t get on with mine and deregistered it because I wasn’t engaging with the books as deeply and hated the whole experience. I’m surrounded by books all day, I don’t need one! If they have strong opinions one way or the other, I go with it. It’s my job to chat and be pleasant, and honestly, each to their own!

    That said, the one thing I HATE is showrooming. There’s nothing pleasant about customers who do this; it’s increasingly shameless. Even in a second-hand bookshop, where most books average around £2.10 for a decent paperback, I get people bending them, dropping them, reading half of them, then turning and shouting across the shop “Oh no, I’m not buying anything, I’m just going to download it on me Kindle!” It’s so incredibly rude. I mean, we all know it happens, but there’s no need to rub our noses in it, y’know?

    Mutual consideration, good manners, respect and tolerance seem to be key here. Evidently something certain individuals on BOTH sides of the counter need to brush up on a little! Interesting post anyway – and good to see it generating some discussion!

    • I honestly wish I’d saved the links–I was earlier this year where there was a whole neighborhood in England that deemed itself “Kindle-free” (it was a small town with a literary festival: here) (because I guess there were a lot of bookshops in that neighborhood, I forget the particulars). I follow a lot of book-related peeps on Twitter, including some bookstores, and I occasionally see the e-reader hate. And it seems like when one indie makes a splash about it, like that English neighborhood, some other indies jump on the bandwagon all “Yeah! I hate Kindles! People who read Kindles suck!” :(

  20. I get that open letters are really for yourself rather than the addressee, but I can’t fathom this convincing any of them. Arguing that you ought not to be written off as a potential future customer should certainly precede telling them to fuck off in any sort of sincere correspondence.

    And I get that open letters aren’t really correspondence. They’re rantier essays, almost tragically adopting the guise of a dialogue. But a correspondence would be much more interesting for me to read. If a particular indie bookseller has been prickly with you, I’d like that story, and to read what their side is. I see from your responses to comments that this is more second-hand response to intolerance than anything, and I appreciate the indignation. If I was browsing for paperbacks and got yelled at for having a Kindle in my pocket, that would be an unreasonable circumstance. At the same time, every instance of showrooming I’ve ever witnessed was disgusting, and if I made my livelihood off a storefront, it might have driven me nuts by now on a much more personal level than the one you’re writing from here. Like most intolerance, this seems unfortunate from pretty much every angle.

    • Showrooming is a wholly separate issue, though. I don’t even have to own an e-reader to showroom..heck, I don’t even need a smartphone, just a PC at home and a good memory. But when merchants make snippy comments about people who choose to use e-readers, it affects all people who do it, whether you showroom or not.

      Sorry that you didn’t like the fuck off comment, but, that’s kind of what I do here. ;-)

      • But showrooming isn’t an entirely different issue – it’s the main imaginable cause for a bookseller to dislike you wandering around their store with your e-reader. The only thing that would trump it is an on-principle dislike for a device they see as swiping their sales (as erroneous an assumption as that can be) later. Thus it’s directly related to their animosity about the devices, which is what you’re writing about above. The correspondence I’d like to read would actually clear some of this up.

        I get the entertainment value of the fuck-off line, but it triggered my normal reaction to about open letters. I’m sorry if that kind of feedback is useless to you. I dig.

        • No problem.

          I think it’s a separate issue, still. It’s not the device that’s showrooming, it’s customers. It may be more OBVIOUS when someone is showrooming if they have a device out and are using it to scan books or whatever, but I can showroom without having any device, they just don’t know I’m doing it. They just think, oh well, guess that person didn’t want to buy anything today–meanwhile, fifteen minutes later, I’m picking it up for half the price on Amazon when I get to my PC. I can also have an e-reader and never use it to showroom.

          I’m gonna write tomorrow about why “showrooming” isn’t a crime, anyway.

    • Also, I don’t remember any rule that says I can’t shop around. If I go to a car dealership and look at their cars, but then go compare prices at another dealership and end up buying there, is that wrong? Booksellers are merchants, they are just as vulnerable to competition as anyone. If they can’t stand up to showrooming, they aren’t being competitive.

      • There also isn’t a rule that booksellers can’t put up annoying signs or be combative about e-readers. Some of their behavior, which is legal and not rule-breaking, offends us and we’d like it to change. But if we’re to explore why we have a negative reaction to behavior from others and to seek to change that behavior, we might as well explore why they enter such behavior. That’s more of the headspace I’m coming from.

        • As a customer, I’m not really concerned with why they’re being bitchy about e-readers, though. I’m there to spend money, and they’re not going to get my money if I don’t feel welcome in their store–thus, it’s far more of an issue for booksellers than it is for me. I can buy my books at another venue that at least pretends to welcome me, e-reader and all :)

          • I guess that gets to the motivation of the post. If it’s to change their behavior, this approach largely won’t work. If it’s to entertain by railing about something you dislike, then it doesn’t matter.

          • ;-)

            It doesn’t really matter for me if they change their behavior or not. I have tons of options. It’s just a rant about something that bugs me for entertainment purposes. (Of course, it might matter to them. It might end up mattering a great deal as time goes on.)

            I read How to Win Friends and Influence People, I know these things. hee.

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