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 :)