Jonathan Strahan comments on editorial On Buying Books
What's Terry Bisson trying to tell us Texans ? That time has properties of movement? I'll have to experience that to believe it. What's the point of settling in the 19th century if it's going to start shunting you into the 20th again, let alone the 21st. Evidently hanging out with all those Yankee liberals and such has set his poor brain to spinning like a bronc in the bunkhouse. There's still time to get help. Come home, son. Come home.
Circle Squared Ranch, Lost Pines, Texas
31 January 2000
(posted Fri 4 Feb 2000)
Dear Locus Online,
I was interested to read your editorial about buying books. I think your observation that the book chains are making it more desirable to buy books online is essentially correct. Why? The only reasons I can imagine for this are that running one massive online store would ultimately be cheaper than running a chain of stores, that they possibly believe they will pick up readers who wouldn't normally buy in a chain store, and that, because of the benefits of brand-name recognition on the web, they would ultimately
swamp independent booksellers.
The only real problem I have with that is the damage to independent
specialty bookstores. I know that you can now get most books in chain
superstores, and almost all of them on their websites, but a well-run
speciality store is a terrific thing. Discovering a specialty SF store for the first time was a wonderful experience as a young reader, and it would be a tragedy to lose stores like Berkeley's Dark Carnival (my personal pick for the best SF store I've even seen).
I have to add that, as a reader living in the most isolated capital city on Earth, it's a little difficult to feel too much sympathy for a US-based book buyer. Why? Well, if you live in Perth, Western Australia as I do, you will find that even the specialty stores don't carry about 60% of the SF titles published in the US, and none of the titles published by small presses. And the prices! The major book chains here only discount Stephen King-scale bestsellers, and the specialty stores don't discount at all. If the book you want doesn't happen to be released in Australia (which is not uncommon), then you have to buy it from an online bookseller or a specialty store. To buy an imported hardcover novel from a specialty store can be forbiddingly expensive. For example, David Weber's new novel costs $US24.00, but will sell here for $A59.95 ($US39.85). If I go to an online bookstore I can get the book for a lot less, but nowhere near the price available to US buyers. If I'm willing to wait up to three months, I can get a copy for about $A35, or about $A45 if I only want to wait 3 weeks. Should I want it within a couple of days, it gets real expensive! That said, I'm lucky. I get a number of books to review, which helps a lot. The only frustrating thing there is if I get a galley or set of loose pages to read, and I like the book a lot, I usually end up buying the US edition for my collection anyway. Who said book buying was easy (sigh).
17 January 2000
(posted Fri 4 Feb 2000)
[ I entirely sympathize about independents. My formative experiences were at the original Change of Hobbit bookstore, when it was just a few blocks from UCLA, one room above a laundromat -- that's where I bought my first [mimeographed!] copy of Locus. Yes, well-run independents are a joy, but even poorly-run superstores are valuable. I still browse the physical bookstores two or three times a week, because only that way can you find things you aren't looking for, which doesn't often happen on a website, despite their efforts at making recommendations (of books I've mostly already bought, or at least know about). --ed. ]