I was in my local Borders this past week to browse the horror book shelves. I like browsing books before I buy them. Magazines, too. I also like the coffee at Borders; I sip it while I browse. I made a bad choice of getting something too creamy this time, though, and paid for it. I hate being lactose-intolerant.
Another thing I hate is seeing the dwindling shelf-space given to horror titles. And those books given space are fairly mainstream, of course, to appeal to as broad a book-buying market as possible. Author names are really important here as they help sell the books, so I see many of the same authors who have earned that broad appeal in Borders and Barnes and Noble. At least Borders still has a horror section. Barnes and Noble, the one I frequent anyway, (I like Starbucks coffee, too), pretends horror does not exist. They sprinkle horror titles into other categories. I'm always embarrassed to ask about specific horror books when I go to Barnes and Noble. If I dare correct the stock-person when they tell me a book I am looking for is not horror he or she tends to get snooty and gives me a look Jason and Freddy could learn a lot from. I explain I know a thing or two about horror because I blog about it and, well, that usually ends the conversation faster. So I try not to mention it anymore.
Don't get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with books having broad appeal. I know every writer hopes to attain it. But when browsing horror books, I want a broad range of titles to investigate, not only the mainstream ones. I love non-fiction titles, too. But if you were to judge the current state of horror fiction and non-fiction by just going to a brick and mortar bookstore, you would think a handful of authors, and an armful of books, are all that's available for such an expansive genre.
Searching for what is in stock is even more of a disheartening challenge; and a great disappointment. I realize bookstores compete with online giants like Amazon, that offer books at big discounts; but if I'm in the bookstore, I want to browse the book and then, if I like it, buy it. Yes, I'll admit there have been times I've gone to the bookstore to see if I could browse a title offered online, then buy it online if I liked it; but these days, I actually rather buy the book in the bookstore because it's faster and I like fast service. Perhaps bookstores started dropping their inventory because too many people--yes, guilty here-- were browsing up the books then going to Amazon to buy them at discount? What is a bookstore without enough books then? If I cannot browse and I can't simply buy off the shelf, what kind of service is that? Telling me I can order it while I am in the bookstore sounds like a Twilight Zone or Tales From the Darkside episode, not something that should happen in the real, rational world. Perhaps if I could order it and have it shipped home instead of the bookstore, maybe I would take them up on that offer. But I need to see it first before I order it, otherwise that puts me back in the loop of online ordering without any incentive to order it through the bookstore.
Which brings me to my consternation: why don't bookstores offer digital book browsing and purchasing? If they cannot carry a larger selection of horror books than at least offer the opportunity to browse additional titles digitally. Am I, perhaps, being too electronically effete for expecting service like this? Or naive? On the face of it you may say it is contrary to the mission of the bookstore, which is to provide tangible paperbound books: go digital and you may just as well order from Amazon or some other online source. Yes, that is true. But Amazon offers digital browsing, so why can't I do it in a bookstore, too?
Let's rethink the mission of a bookstore a bit. Bookstores offer something online sites can never offer: face to face community for book-lovers and authors. Online forums, groups, what have you, add to that community, but cannot replace it. Meeting an author, talking to an author, in the flesh, is always much more fun and exciting. Bookstores will always have this aspect to set them apart. Now if they can just provide more horror titles to browse, well then, I'd be quite happy indeed. If they do it digitally, and offer me the opportunity to buy the book in paper or in bytes, I would be more than satisfied. That, and the community atmosphere only a bookstore can foster (with good coffee to sip) would be sublime.
And putting more horror magazines on those racks would not be shabby, either.
I like the independent bookstore. They do tend to try and get to know you and work with you on your interests. Wish I could find one closer to me. I hit the jackpot with the bookstore in Warwick, NY. They had lots of horror non-fiction books and I walked out with an bagful of great reading.
Posted by: Iloz Zoc | October 16, 2009 at 10:42 PM
The big box stores are feeling the crunch because they offer neither the broad selection of online services (they can't - the rules of space time forbid it) nor are they nimble enough to meet the needs of individual customers. Add that to the huge cost of all their rental overhead and you're looking at a passing paradigm.
What you need to find is a small local store that will actually learn who you are as a regular and start catering to your needs. Small local indies are to the big boxes what the nondescript rodent-like animal was to the dinosaurs.
Posted by: crwm | October 16, 2009 at 10:03 PM