Times, they are a-changin’…and in so many ways! Those of us who love books are looking at a whole new landscape thanks to the impact of technology. The subject of E-books aside (for another post!), book-lovers are faced with a particular dilemma; on the one hand, internet bookstores such as Amazon offer readers an immense catalogue of offerings, easy ordering, and relatively quick delivery. On the other hand, brick-and-mortar bookstores have their advantages.
I will admit to being a big fan of Amazon, having purchased many books over the years. The undeniable appeal of Amazon for most of us is the substantial discounting of price (for most books) coupled with a free shipping policy. Their online catalogue/search tools are useful for determining the availability of both new and used books. When buying on the internet, I usually use Amazon for new books and ABE (Advanced Book Exchange) for used copies. I find the latter describes the condition of the book in more detail and offers a more selective group of sellers. I have always had a good experience with both of these sources – with one exception. Amazon often loosely packs a heavy book in an oversize box with other items such as DVDs. Not infrequently does the book arrive with damaged corners or pages from rattling around in the box during shipping. In Amazon’s favor, they always replace the damaged copy ( I always return them no matter how slight the damage!). It is a nuisance, however, and a jolt to the sensitivities of one who takes good care of his or her books.
Despite the advantages of internet book-shopping, Linda and I regularly buy from brick-and-mortar bookstores in the area even though we sometimes pay more. One of our favorite bookstores is Leigh’s Favorite Books on Murphy Street, here in Sunnyvale. We appreciate the fact that Leigh, the owner, knows who we are when we walk in the door. We also appreciate the fact that she stocks both new and quality used books, the latter invariably in very good condition and obviously carefully selected by her and her staff – no dog-eared and tattered ordinary copies here! With surprising serendipity, I have found many very fine new and used books at Leigh’s, titles which I was not aware of and which I subsequently purchased there for my library. Whether new or used, you see in advance what you get both in terms of content and condition, and that, for me, is a very big advantage of the brick-and-mortar experience. Even given the limited “look inside” feature on Amazon, there is no substitute for being able to hold a book in your hands and to peruse its contents, the author’s style, and even its physical quality. And there is no shipping-damage problem! My wife and I also patronize larger chain stores like Barnes and Noble when buying new books for similar reasons.
We recently bought an Epson slide and document scanner from a large camera store in Palo Alto. The fact that we paid more than we would have through Amazon reflected the help we received from the knowledgeable and experienced staff who directed us to this particular model. I do not feel justified in using really good brick-and-mortar stores – like the camera store and Leigh’s Books – as showrooms in which to gather free information for a discount purchase on the internet; that is not to say that has never happened with us, but when we receive valued attention and advice from a salesperson, we are more likely to give them the business on the spot, even at a higher price.
I believe this approach is appropriate and necessary when purchasing books and other merchandise, otherwise we will find ourselves completely at the mercy of the jungle that can be the internet as quality brick-and-mortar stores continue to disappear. What do you think?