Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Bookstores Pay Us Not to Go There

Photo: Barnes and Noble icon, from  (Notice the brick and mortar name and the .com.)

So a few days ago I walk into the only large (chain) bookstore left in all of Rhode Island: Barnes and Noble.  I wanted to go there because a) I'd forgotten if I'd pre-ordered Stephen King's latest, Dr. Sleep, his sequel to The Shining.  (For the record, I'm a little concerned about how I'll like the motorcycle gang, but we'll see.)  I ask the guy behind the help desk to look it up in my account, and it turns out that I hadn't pre-ordered it.  I ask him if I can do so, using this 20% extra coupon I'd been emailed, and hoping I'd be able to use it with the 40% off new hardcovers usually come with, and maybe even the 10% off I sometimes get because I'm a member.  (I realize that hoping to get 70% off a new Stephen King hardcover is extremely unrealistic, but as my previous blog entry mentioned, these are some hard times.)

He says No, that Barnes and Noble doesn't offer discounts on the pre-ordered books through because new books ordered online are already greatly reduced.

"How much reduced?" My ears perked up, because I like things greatly reduced these days.

He explains that to buy it in the store, I'd have to pay the $28 (or so) price, plus tax.  That's over $30.  I'd get the 30% off, not the 40%, and I'd get an additional 10% for being a member, and that's it.  No other coupons allowed.  No 20% additional from the coupon.  I was about to start a discussion about the meaning of the word "additional," as in, the coupon says "get an additional 20% off," but instead I ask him how much it would be to just pre-order it online.

"Nineteen dollars," he said.

Huh?  I quickly figured that 10% of $28 was $2.80, and that twice that was $5.60, and that twice that was $11.20 (that's the 40% off total, for those not so mathematically inclined), and that $30 (with tax) minus $11.20 was $19.80--essentially what it would cost me to sit on my butt at home and order it from there.  Plus, I wouldn't have to pay shipping, because I'm a member and I get that for free. And no money spent on gas, etc.

This gave me pause.  I told the guy I gave him credit for bringing the whole online thing up to begin with, as I had been ready to buy it from the store the week of September 23rd.  I said it was especially good of him to mention it, since everyone who orders a book at, and not at the store, makes his job more and more obsolete.  It also would make obsolete the jobs of the cashiers and the cafe workers, and it would negate the sales of a great many other books and magazines that are sold to people who come into the store to buy A, and who leave the store buying A, B and C.  From my experience, people who go online to a bookstore website to buy A end up buying A and that's it.  ("From my experience" here means me and a few friends.)

He acknowledged all of this, though it was clear that he hadn't considered all this before, and nobody had had the gumption (or the arrogance) to bring all this up to him before.  Times being what they are, I pre-ordered the book and had it delivered for free to my house, feeling badly as I did so, but at least congratulating myself for not waiting a few weeks or a few months and then buying it for just a couple of bucks on Amazon or Ebay.

To make myself feel a little better, I looked for a baseball card checklist / price guide I needed, but I was told that they didn't carry it in stock, but that their website did.  Sigh.  I bought a couple of coin books I needed instead, feeling that Barnes and Noble was at this point working against me as I tried to buy something in its store.  I had to go through entirely too much hassle and brainpower to do so.

In the long run I'll have to admit defeat.  Before long, the workers behind the registers, in the cafe, behind the help desk, and in the rows of books won't have a job, and the stockholders and CEO of Barnes and Noble will make more money because they won't have any workers to pay.  And there won't be even one large bookstore in my entire state.  Somewhere in there (though Stephen King himself probably doesn't need the money) the writers themselves, and the book publishers, will end up somehow getting screwed, as more and more people buy "books" online and then read them on their electronic devices, never having to actually be verbal with another person as they do so.  For this, book-makers will disappear, as will printers, type-setters, and all the middlemen who are responsible for the sometimes high price of books--but who also keep the economy going by being a necessary worker, and by holding a job.  This in turn makes them money, which they would spend on things that would also necessitate the jobs of other people.  The economy is a house of cards this way, and it's all going to someday blow down.

People will wonder why the economy got so bad.  And there won't be any economics books to teach them.

Or the teachers, for that matter.  But that's another blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment