Bookshops vs Online Booksellers

Are you a book browser? I’m not. What I read is heavily influenced by newspapers and magazines. Not reviews, but author interviews and articles on books and writing. When I go into a library or bookshop, it’s always with a specific book in mind.

This means that shopping for books online suits me very well. I usually buy my books from Amazon where they are often cheaper than the recommended retail price, readily available and, even with supersaver free delivery, on my doorstep two to three days later.

Recently I ordered three books from Waterstone’s. One of them arrived a week later. I had to take a detour on my way home from work to pick it up. The second is still not available more than a month after the publication date, although I could buy it from Amazon now for less than the Waterstone’s price and have it in a few days. The third book is a difficult one to get. Waterstone’s cancelled the order; on Amazon I can get it for £2 plus £2.80 postage from a marketplace seller in the States.

Buying books online has clear advantages for the book buyer: price, availabilty, the convenience of having the book delivered to your door within a few days. The arguments I’ve heard for eschewing online book buying in favour of popping in to your local bookshop are that you can browse for books you might not normally have bought or known about, you get personal service, and you can support a local business.

If browsing’s your thing, let’s not forget that in a bookstore you are limited to the fraction of published books that that bookstore has decided to stock. The personal attention I received at Waterstone’s when discussing my book orders was lovely, but it just doesn’t stack up against the convenience of having cheaper books in less time from Amazon. Incidently, my experience of Amazon’s customer service has been great. It may have been via e-mail but the result was a new book a few days later, leaving me very happy.

As for supporting local bookshops, at the moment that’s just not a big priority for me. Perhaps it should be, but I need someone to tell me why. What are the arguments for shopping in independent bookshops?  I’m sure there are plenty of good ones: more money for authors because their books aren’t heavily discounted? More support for local authors? You wouldn’t find their books in major book chains but they’re on the shelves in independent bookshops. Anything else?

What’s important to you when it comes to book buying and where do you buy your books?


14 thoughts on “Bookshops vs Online Booksellers

  1. I have to say price. I know Amazon is bad for bookshops, but I can’t bear to pay full price at Waterstone’s (which isn’t a big supporter of my genre, anyway) when I can get it online for almost 40 per cent off.

    • Talli, I’m glad to hear you say that price is a consideration for you. I do worry that when you buy discounted books, it’s the author who gets a smaller paycheck rather than the bookseller. But you’re an author and you’d also go for the cheaper books online, so I feel less guilty now. I have to say that if we didn’t have libraries and Amazon closed down tomorrow, I wouldn’t start paying £8 a pop for books, I would just read less.

    • Well, I’m guilty of impulse buying books too, usually because they’ve been on the 3 for 2 table. These books are the ones that are still unread on my bookshelf.

  2. I am a bit of a browser but I will usually look up anything I see in Waterstone’s on Amazon to get it cheaper. Yes, Amazon is bad for High St bookshops but shopping at Waterstone’s isn’t helping the small, independent booksellers either, so I figure I may as well save some money. I’d like to buy from the independents but I just don’t have the budget to pay that much more for every title.

    • Gillian, I feel the same way. I thought I was a bad person for going for cheaper books online rather than shopping in independent bookshops. It’s reassuring to know that others also go for the budget option.

  3. I try to imagine how I’d feel if my book had been published. Of course, I’d like to think that in a small way it was helping independents survive and as I understand it, I would earn a higher percentage in terms of royalties from purchases in independent shops. Since Waterstones and Amazon both take massive cuts, author royalties from them are smaller. However, Amazon would ultimately sell far more copies, I’d have thought. It’s probably better to earn 5% of 2000 lower priced sales than 20% of 100 full price sales. Plus, higher sales numbers would help to sell subsequent books.

    I don’t know the full ins and outs of the implications for authors and I may be well off the mark. Still, I’m not aware of any published writers who don’t want their books available on Amazon.

    And I’m basically not that bothered about Waterstones. I really like having a bookshop I can browse but I don’t feel there’s any greater good being done by me buying from them. If I were to have to pay full rrp for a book now I’d probably order it from an independent shop or Blackwells rather than the HMV empire anyway.

  4. I actually have personal rules for this!! I’ll buy from a bricks and mortar retailer if (a) I like the shop (nice staff, a decent range of product) and (b) they don’t let the internet undercut them on the price by more than 20% (or £5, whichever is the greater)!

    Outside of Fopp, I don’t buy a lot of stuff from bricks and mortar!! I don’t feel guilty though, ’cause whatever I’m saving is inevitably going to wind up being spent on some other book, DVD or CD anyway.

    Last book I bought from Waterstones was just after Christmas. They had beautiful, exclusively designed hardbacks of classic books and I bought Slaughterhouse 5. I think this is probably the way for bookstores to go. Good service, good advice and special content.

    • The only product I have rules about buying is wine. I look for bottles that started out as more than £5 but have been reduced to less than £5.

      I agree. If bookshops are to compete with the internet they need to offer something unique, like your exclusively designed hardback. Or author events. I’ve often gone into bookshops for readings and when I’m there I’ll happily buy a book and have it signed by the author. I’m a bit of a geek that way.

    • Ha! I have that exact same rule for wine too. I think I may have some sort of brain disorder.

  5. I’ve never bought a book online. For one thing I don’t own is a credit card and I’m pretty sure I’d need on for that. Right? My my kids were home they’d order off Amazon and I’d sometimes order a book I wanted.

    As for supporting the local independant bookstore owners in my area, since they supplied books for my launch I’ve come to know them quite well and consider them friends. It feels good to give them my business. I guess I’m a real softy. Sometimes I just go in to chat!

    • Laura, that’s a very good reason to shop in your local bookshop. It’s lovely that you’ve become friends with the bookstore owners and that you support each other.

  6. I buy most of my books in second hand shops, as I like to know my money is going to charity and I like to browse. These days there’s a really good selection in the dedicated bookshops run by eg Oxfam and the books are generally in good condition. Having said that I buy a fair number of poetry books at readings etc to support the individual poets and small presses (but I will only buy the book if I like what I’ve heard at the reading). Plus I get quite a lot of books free as prizes or review copies or via Bookcrossing. I probably have too many books…

  7. My partner on the other hand buys all his books from the Science Fiction bookshop as he is friends with the owner, who knows his reading tastes really well and can generally recommend a good number of books every fortnight or so.

    I have on occasion ordered books through Wordpower Books as a way of supporting their business when I’m looking for new books or those unlikely to make it into second hand shops

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