I love bookshops (I know, what a shocker!). I can spend hours in them, regardless of whether it’s a teeny suburban shop, a second-hand stall at a market, or a legendary store such Shakespeare and Company or Foyle’s. My favourite shop in Dublin is Hodges Figgis, primarily because it’s handy, they have a loyalty card and the staff are knowledgeable and very nice.
However I think that bookshops can be fairly daunting places if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. If you’ve read a review and you have the book title in hand, no problem, but if you traipse in off the street with a vague idea that you’d like to read something a little bit like the last book you read or a bit like this author, it can be a bit hit and miss. Seeing shelves stacked with books and knowing you’re going to have to take each one out, read the back and perhaps read a few pages before you know if you like it can make buying a new book a task rather than a pleasure.
I think sometimes customers can be shy about approaching staff. They think “how am I going to explain what I want” or “perhaps I’ll sound silly” but that’s why good bookshop staff are worth their weight in gold (unfortunately most of them aren’t paid that way!). Sometimes I have discovered a brilliant book or a new favourite author just by asking the staff “what was the last great book you read?” A good seller will be able to tell you that if you like Maeve Binchy you’d love Daphne du Maurier, or if you’ve just discovered Hemingway perhaps you might like Norman Mailer.
I can therefore understand why people to choose to shop online. Amazon makes it easier by showing you other options that are similar and what purchasers of this title bought as well. You can spend as long as you like, perhaps open another browser window so you can Google an author or some reviews, and make a more informed purchase than you would be able to in a bookshop.
Personally I like to buy from both bookshops and from Amazon. I’ll usually only buy on Amazon if I can’t get it anywhere else as I believe in keeping Irish bookshops in business and so I give them my custom whenever I can!
If you’re a reader, where do you get your books and why? Online? From a library? Bookshops? Or a combination of all? I’d love to know!
5 thoughts on “Online versus in-store: where do you buy books?”
Great post- I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently as I too am a great advocate of the bookshop! I’ve managed to stop buying online altogether by having a network of secondhand shops I bounce around til I find what I’m looking for. I do it for love of the experience and to keep bookshops alive- It’s time consuming and often, as you mentioned, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I’m after. I couldn’t agree more about the immense value of knowledgeable staff though!
Anyhow I’ll be picking up Mailer next time I’m out, so thanks for making the connection!
Mailer is interesting – if you haven’t read The Deer Park that’s where I’d start. There’s a brilliant documentary on him too that I’ve seen a trailer for but can’t seem to find anywhere. You should look out for it as his life was just as interesting as his art!
Thanks for the shout out on your blog too! Much appreciated.
You’re more than welcome- you’re blog’s a kind of mental gymnastics session for me, very thought provoking.
And thanks for the Mailer advice, I’ll get on that!
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Great post! I love good bookshops (particularly second-hand ones) so I guess that’s where I do most of my browsing and buying!