Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Striking Fear

As some of you may know, it was my birthday last weekend.

No? Gosh, didn't you get the memo? I had it skywritten and everything.

On the day before my birthday, I got a text from my mother, asking me for a few suggestions for books she could buy me. I texted back the name of every Alice Hoffman book that I don't already own and the latest Alexander McCall Smith.

My mother, in turn, went to two bookshops in one of the major shopping centres in south Dublin. One is good, as smaller chains go. One is a glorified magazine shop. The better of the two had one Alice Hoffman, the other had none. No surprises there, as Hoffman is a lot more 'fringe' over here than she is in the States and she can be a little hard to find unless you want to own another copy of Practical Magic. Alexander McCall Smith, on the other hand, is everywhere.

So she went to a smaller, local bookshop, and asked for all of the above again.

It didn't help that the staff weren't nice. But they had none of the above in stock either. 'We can order it.' said one of the staff. 'It will be here in seven to ten days.'
My mum said no, because my birthday was the following day. And it's me, so she just had to send another text to get a whole new list of book suggestions.

When she told me about this, I told her that the next time she met a rude bookshop manager who offered to order a book, she should smile and say the words that strike fear into the heart of every bookseller - 'Thanks so much, but Amazon is quicker.'

She went a step further and decided that next time, she'd fake a phone call to me and allow the staff to hear her say 'Ama-what? Free shipping to Ireland now? And you say they have virtually everything? Wow.' My mother is a very nice person but she has moments of pure evil.

Anyway, I then went on to bore her for some time about why Amazon are actually not all good. As one does.

But Nathan Bransford's post today about whether bookshops and e-books can coexist made me think about bookshops and what they offer.

Already for me, as an Irish consumer, bookshops aren't competitive, even just against online retailers. Amazon are cheaper, they - finally!!!!! - have extended free super saver shipping to Ireland and they deliver faster than a bookshop can order. Ireland is a small market, and it can be hard to just walk in off the street and buy stuff. I've been after Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter and Sweet for ages and it just can't be bought here. And I've never seen an Ally Carter book for sale here. So for those things, I go online.

But I love bookshops, and I will keep going. They are competitive in another way, because with Amazon or its ilk I have to know what I want, then I type in the title, and I buy it. A bookshop is where I go to find out what I want, and once I do, I buy it there. Sometimes an interesting cover catches my eye, sometimes I see a familiar name. Online retailers will never, ever replace that for me.

And luckily, the overwhelming majority of bookshop staff are just lovely :)


  1. Sounds like the retail market in Ireland is much like here in the U.S. Some of the shops are wonderful, try so hard with customer service, and author events, and others just don't seem to care. Why with Amazon breathing down their necks do they act like that?

  2. Hi

    Ooops, I do like my Amazon *ducking as Alice Hoffman's latest tome is thrown at me* - they've not let me down so far and are really good value as I do like my bargains and online shopping...

    Here in Herts and London - it's down to erm... Waterstones, Foyles, WHSmith...and quite nice charity shops with second hand books (Herts anyway!)The Waterstones's I go to in London are just lovely tho - with a Costa coffee attached to it!

    But I agree a million percent that there's nothing like seeing a book cover that catches the eye, nor touching a brand new book on the shelves, nor discovering a new author you've not heard of before because you like the blurb at the backcover or the title or the premise... you don't get that at Amazon!

    Or just browsing!

    Bookshops and LIBRARIES!! Rule!

    Take care

  3. Karen, I agree, there's so much variation in quality between bookshops here too. Nice staff and a nice atmosphere make a huge difference - that's what keeps me going there.

    Kitty, my favourite Waterstones in London is the one just off Tottenham Court Road behind the British Museum. Pleasantly studenty vibe and Costa coffee in the basement :) The Waterstones in Dublin has a not-great cafe in it but luckily there's a Costa on the same street so I can kinda recreate that Bloomsbury feeling :D

  4. Belated Happy B-day! I'm celebrating mine today so I'll be sure to tip a glass for you as well. I hope you had a wonderful birthday!


  5. Thanks Hawk, happy birthday to you too :D Irish Aquarians rule!

  6. Dang, I got busy and missed your birthday!


  7. Happy belated Birthday. Hope you had a great day of celebration. I am delighted to hear Amazon are now doing free delivery to Ireland. With the new baggage restrictions, I can no longer bring my books with me when I come each summer. I love to browse in the bookstores and see what grabs my fancy.

  8. Just to say: Happy Birthday (late, I know)! There's nothing better than getting books as a gift. Enjoy reading them!


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