Bookstore Battles: Where Do You Shop?

In light of Amazon’s decision regarding Print-on-Demand services that are not their own, and the mutterings of “anti-trust” and grumblings of “lawsuit” following that decision, an article in the Washington Post last weekend caught many a Bitchery reader’s eye. Thanks to Jill and Mary for giving me the heads up about this story: who battles whom in the bookstore wars?

Used to be that independents battled the Big Book stores. Now, the Big Books are in danger, as well as the independents, as shoppers start taking a look for books at Target, Costco, and other very inexpensive vendors.

Costco, Target, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club aren’t just moving in for the kill with big discounts on the latest Stephen King or John Grisham page-turners. They are also engaging the culturally connected, targeting readers who delight in cocktail or book-club conversation about the latest titles. About 34 percent of book buyers made purchases at such locations last year, according to the Simmons National Consumer Survey.

Costco, I admit, sucks me in with their big long table of books, like a potential discount trough of paperback and hardback possibilities. Costco, in my experience, is half a good deal and half the illusion of a good deal. I think I’m getting a better deal by buying 47 pounds of tatertots, but ultimately, it’s the same price, or fractionally less, for just more product that I have to find room for in my house.

But the Target part, that fascinates me. Most analyses that I’ve read of Target’s shopping demographic show an affluent core of customers who can pay more for various items, but repeatedly visit Target for day-to-day needs. It’s like a grocery store for some food staples, basic appliances, and most sundries. So if book shoppers are headed there, and their selection is more than just the top 10 books from any given best-seller list, Big Book retailers will certainly feel the loss:

Costco regularly hosts authors to promote books. Those who have appeared or are scheduled to appear with new books at Costco stores include Ken Burns, Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, Jose Canseco, Harlan Coben and Newt Gingrich.

Seth Gitell, a Boston journalist and political analyst, wrote on his blog last year that he had dropped by a local Costco “to purchase some delicious whitefish salad” but noticed a sign promoting, of all things, a book signing by Burns. Gitell “couldn’t believe that Burns would be making an appearance here of all places,” he wrote. “But here he was. Burns sat dressed neatly in a blue blazer in front of a large display of Vizio 60-inch and 42-inch big-screen HDTVs as eager fans lined up to meet him.”

One of the points I remember from Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed is that in the US, the affluent have the luxury of driving farther to pursue a bargain. So it makes some sense that the money in sales is to be found at the discount stores, even and including for books. So the terrain of the war for book sales shifts yet again – and I wonder what will happen to the independent bookstores in this country.



The Link-O-Lator

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Leah says:

    I occasionally buy a book when I’m at WalMart, or Kroger, but I generally go to Books-A-Million (or Borders/Barnes & Noble if we are on vacation).  For me, buying a book is like soaking in the tub—a special way to unwind, so I want the “bookstore experience”—cushy chairs, tons of selection, exotic magazines, and that lovely coffee and pastry smell (although I don’t buy any).  Buying a book in a huge warehouse when I know I’m gonna go over budget and my kids are whining that they’re tired is not my idea of fun.  I do have a HUGE wishlist on Amazon, but since we’re tightening our financial belts, I don’t order from them like I did when we lived in an itty-bitty town w/ no bookstore.  My favorite place right now is paperbackswap.

  2. 2
    closetcrafter says:

    I shop around for the best bargain based on how badly I want the book and if I want to keep it till the end of time.

    I love to cruise Half Price Books.  I sometimes find hard covers of things I want to keep forever that I have already in paperback. I like to look for glom authors. Same with my local public library.  I have found a lot of glom authors out of print books. Also every year in the 1st week of June a local church has a huge book drive with the best collection of used books I HAVE EVER SEEN>  Including a rare books section. It rocks as far as the romance section goes.  It makes me laugh because it is sponsored by a church but they will take anything.  I have seen some FILTH there for sale.

    If I HAVE to have it, then I pre-order online at Amazon to get the discount.I also like to use Amazon and you guys to find new authors.  I use Target to find stuff I kind of wanted to read that my library doesn’t have yet and I can justify paying the 25% off price.  Barnes and Noble if I am bored. 

    Its a sickness.

  3. 3
    book reader says:

    Nothing is more exciting to me than putting an author on “Auto Buy” on Amazon. I love getting ‘surprise’ books delivered to my house!

    What I’m curious about are those ‘bestseller lists.’ From what I gather, these number do not include books sold at Wal-mart, Target, or Costco…yet they are grabbing 34% of the sales?  Something stinks here.

    Or did I understand those bestseller lists wrong?

  4. 4
    fiveandfour says:

    I imagine most bibliophiles who live in a city of decent size do something similar to me, which is buy books wherever they can be found: at independent, big, and used book stores, at Costco, Target and Wal-Mart, online through Amazon and others, at library sales and at the odd garage sale.  I would guess I’m probably pretty lucky to live in an area with a very good number of options to choose from as respects physical locations I can visit, but maybe most cities are like this and I don’t know it because I haven’t experienced it.

    Anyway, it would be my assumption that places like Target and Wal-Mart aren’t ‘stealing business’ away from other places for people like me (people who are constantly on the look-out for books and thus relatively democratic in purchasing style).  It’s the “average” reader, I would guess, who is pushing this trend because that kind of reader is looking for a narrower range and smaller number of books to read and that range is most commonly found at places like Target, Costco and Wal-Mart.  And of course, it’s the “average” reader who makes up the bulk of the market, hence this change.

  5. 5
    Anna says:

    Borders, Amazon, (Netflix for books), a small independent bookstore (close and I like the owners), public library.

  6. 6
    LenaB says:

    I generally shop at new, big bookstores – Borders, mostly, because I like how they organize (separate fantasy from horror from science fiction), but Barnes & Nobles too, because of their displays and the wonderfulness of just sitting in giant leather chairs and drinking a latte. I’m lucky – I live in a big city and there are a TON of bookstores just about everywhere.

    I also buy from and Barnes &, if I’m just leisurely shopping around or have gift certificates.

  7. 7
    Bether says:

    After working at Borders for a couple of years and buying a lot of books there…and now not wanting to go back to my former place of employment…
    And also living in a great town for used book stores…
    I shop at Powell’s.  I pretty much always have, since I moved to Portland.  Even when I worked at Borders, except during Christmas when my 30% off was more important to my budget than shopping locally.

  8. 8
    Estelle Chauvelin says:

    I buy B&N, online if I’m planning on buying enough to get the free shipping or from the local store if I’m not.  The only local, independent, new book store got bought out by Books-a-Million ten years ago.  B&N is rated highly by Buy Blue, and that’s good enough for me.

  9. 9
    J Harrell says:

    I usually shop the big stores: B&N and Borders, generally because they’re closest to me. The Borders is almost across the street from where I work and B&N is just around the corner and on the way home from work. Occasionally, I’ll hit up Amazon if neither Borders nor B&N have what I want. I’ll also sometimes hit up the only Books-a-Million here in town, on the other side of town and not as appealing as a result. I know there must be good independent bookstores/church sales but I honestly don’t know where/when they are. I also rarely go for the mainstream books either :P

  10. 10
    Kalen Hughes says:

    1) The Book End (a romance specialty store that brings books to my local RWA chapter meeting; I buy 90% of my romance books from them).

    2) Stacy’s (large independent within walking distance of my office; I buy almost all my other books here).

    2) Amazon (for those hard to find books, OOP books, and hardbacks that I want a discount on).

  11. 11
    Stephanie says:

    It’s amazing how much my approach to buying books has changed since I became a published author last year. I now buy most of my books from independent stores, because they’re the same stores who let me do readings and helped push my book to local consumers. I’ll even order books from them that they don’t have on their shelves (often they have less inventory), knowing it will cost me more, because I love their presence in my neighborhood. If I want a whole group of books (in prep for vacation) I’ll consider buying from the big boys (B&N, Amazon) or if I want to buy an expensive photo book or some such and 20% off makes a big difference.

    It helps that I have a wonderful independent bookstore a few blocks from my house.

  12. 12
    Suzanne says:

    Ya know, I’ll buy from just about anywhere.  I am limited for time with 2 jobs and 3 boys under the age of 7, so if I am at Target (I am ALWAYS at Target) and they have a book I want to read – Great, I’ll take it.  And they do have a decent selection, but nothing like an actual book store.  It is a special treat for me to go to Barnes & Noble, but sometimes even they have a limited selection of certain authors works (older stuff) and then I order on-line. I guess the only place I don’t go is to the public library.  But I’m a pack rat…I keep the books even if I didn’t like them so much.

  13. 13

    Borders is my first choice because I like their points program—the card is free and the discounts come quickly.  But I’m a loyal Target shopper, and if I see a book I want there, I buy it.  I also shop at our local independent, Goerings Books, for my SF and non-fiction because they’ve got the best selection, and they host local authors (like me) for signings.

  14. 14
    Bonnie L. says:

    Don’t flame me here, but I live on a small budget and so I buy most of my books from Wal-Mart.  You can’t beat paying $1.50 – $2.00 less than you would at B&N or Borders.  I’m mostly an impulsive buyer; I want to have the book I bought right at that moment, so I don’t shop online very much.  My cheapskate strategy only works with new releases of certain authors so I do go and buy back lists or new releases of unavailable authors from B$N or Borders or even the UBS.

  15. 15
    Nonnie says:

    I used to buy books exclusively from Target.  This was back when they only carried the best sellers and the category romances.  Over time, my tastes changed, and so I became a B&N, Borders and Amazon buyer.  However, I’ve started to notice the change to Target’s book shelves, and if I can go back to them, I probably will, if only because you never know what else I might find on the Target Clearance shelves that I might need…

    problems74…you ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie…

  16. 16
    Flo says:

    Why would anyone be pissed that people are buying at the best price.  The book prices have hiked ridiculously over the past years.  So people who are living on a budget (which is like… 99.9% of us) are all way more shopping conscious.  We don’t buy full price unless we have no other choice.  And stores expecting us to buy full price may need to have their heads examined.

    For myself I’ll buy used unless I REALLY REALLY want to make sure the author gets on some kind of list.  I figure I’m sending money their way one way or another.

  17. 17
    Kismet says:

    I tend to shop at whatever bookstore is closest to me at the moment. If I am in wal-mart or Target, then I’ll pick up a book there. If I am in the mall, I go for Borders Express. The only B+N and big Borders are over 30 minutes away….not worth it unless I am desperate and heading in that direction anyhow.

    I LOVE Half Priced Books, and make a trip every few months. I take a box of all my non-keeper titles and trade them in, and then use the money to buy other books.

    If I were not broke, I would tend to shop at the more exclusive shops, but for now income dictates my shopping habits (thus the $5 jeans from Gabriel Brothers that I am wearing right now ;) ).

  18. 18
    joopiter says:

    Usually Borders or Amazon for books I know I want. But for the sheer joy of browsing, nothing beats The Book Barn in Niantic, CT. It’s a used-book bonanza and clearly run and staffed by people who absolutely love books.

  19. 19
    Kim Lenox says:

    I never buy books at Wal Mart or Target. I’m there to buy toilet tissue or dog food, and somehow my brain doesn’t say “look at books”. I split my book buying pretty evenly between Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and a local independent bookstore. I’d go for the independent all the time, but it’s a bit of a drive for me.

  20. 20
    Randi says:

    Like others here, I’m all over the place. My core shopping is done at B&N-partly for their atmospher and partly because I have their discount card. I will mosey over to Borders for romance (I think we all chatted about the diff b/t B&N and Borders a while back) sometimes, as they tend to have a wider romance selection than B&N. On a weekend, if I am downtown Philly, I may check out some of the used bookstores (Booktrader, the Phila library bookstore, and one other I cannot remember). The independants in Philly are not strategically placed in general (parking is rough if not downright impossible) so I avoid them. I do have an independent in my neighborhood, but their atmosphere was offsetting and their selection very limited, so i don’t go there. lastly, when I go home to MN to visit, my mom and I spend hours at Half Priced Books. That is where we both got turned on to La Nora and we take home LOADS of books, which I carry back to Philly in my suitcase. hahaha. I have never bought a book at Target, Wal-mart or Costco, as I have never been in a Costco, target is a toilet paper place for me, and I don’t shop at Wal-Mart.

  21. 21
    Karen B says:

    I live in a rural community and not only are there not any chain bookstores, there are no independent bookstores either.  However we do have a Wal-Mart … lol

    I will pick up a few books once a month at Wal-Mart and will haunt local yard sales.  However I love taking the occassional trip to B&N and Half Price books.  They are both in a town about 45 minutes from my house and I try to go there once every couple of months.

    I used to buy books at and amazon, but due to budget restrictions and my love of instant gratification, not so much anymore.

  22. 22
    Kimberly B. says:

    I’m ashamed to admit that I do most of my book shopping at Barnes & Noble.  Ashamed because I worked at two different bookstores that went out of business (one of them while I still worked there) and I’d much rather be shopping at independent bookstores—-were there any around here.  I also use Paperback Swap, the public library, and my college bookstore, which doesn’t have a wide selection but is independent at least.
    I also try to order books from Booksense rather than Amazon when I can.

  23. 23
    TrustMe_2_Forget says:

    If I want to buy a new book, my only option is Wal-Mart or K-Mart…there are NO bookstores in or near the small communtiy I live in.  There is a really nice UBS though.

  24. 24
    scigirl2525 says:

    I personally can’t stand and only use it when I have to, i.e. gift certificate, can’t find it anywhere else, or ordering other stuff as well.  There’s too much “stuff” all over the pages, information is hidden or hard to find, and they take forever to ship when you do free shipping.  I LOVE!  But I’m an instant gratification kind of girl—I have been known to drive all over town, visiting each bookstore in turn until I’m SURE I can’t find it anywhere.

  25. 25
    rebyj says:

    Kroger has a lot of new releases that Books a million either doesn’t have yet or already sold out of.

    Walmart revamped their book section and I rarely find anything I want there anymore.

    Amazon,I used to buy from but the shipping takes so long now if you dont buy the 79 dollar preferred shipping so I do not buy from there anymore at all.

    My favorite place is a USED bookstore that just opened here in Nashville. “McKays” It is HUGE and oh my goodness I’m in there 3 times a week just for a walkthru and a book fix. Probably 90% of my book buying budget goes there now.

    I save money, they have pretty recent releases, example: Rhett Butler’s People.. close to 30 bucks new, I got it 2 weeks ago for 7 dollars. (great book btw)

    Very few authors come out with new books that I have to have the day it comes out anymore. That could change if I had 200 bux a month to spend instead of 25 or 30 LOL

  26. 26
    Brandi says:

    Lately? Library sales and thrift stores. I’m not always looking for the latest and newest, and being able to find something like Dune or a collection of Guy de Maupassant for $2 (or less!) is great. Plus there’s always the the thrill of the hunt and surprises that turn up in places like those. (Said copy of Dune, for example, was from the original 1963 publication date, a hardcover with a dustjacket that was in decent shape—if it’d been an original and not a Book Club edition I could’ve made mad bank…)

  27. 27
    Rachel says:

    Broke college student so I don’t often buy books, but when I do it’s from either a B&N or the used bookstore near my house in VA.  I mostly get books from the library (either public or school – my school has the largest shelf collection of sci-fi and fantasy anywhere, so that’s pretty awesome), and if I really like them I buy copies to have later.

  28. 28
    cc says:

    I have an amazing independent in the rural community I live in who will order in for me without any additional fee- that said I pick up most of my paperbacks at Wal-Mart and scour the FOL book sales- the chain bookstores are at least and hour from me and I’m not the biggest fan of buying books online, with very few exceptions I’m not going to buy a book unless I’ve looked it over, I’ve had too many not good surprises with buying based on cover blurbs- added to that the fact that usually shipping makes up for any discount I may be getting so I’d rather pay full price, no shipping, support a local business who in turn supports my local business and keep my tax dollars in town, which in turn keeps me employed.  Yep, it’s all about me

  29. 29
    Esri Rose says:

    I get almost all my books through Amazon. I love their browsing features, and it’s easy to get free shipping. I keep waiting for Amazon to go print-on-demand. Books could be kept in print forever, there’d be a lot less paper wastage…hell, you could even design your own cover, if you wanted. And every book would have “search inside the book” enabled. And of course, there’d be nothing to keep brick-and-mortar stores from functioning with print-on-demand, too. They could still hand sell their favorites, without having to pay to keep inventory in stock. If you wanted to have a little mystery bookstore, you could have one copy each of your printed books, if you wanted, or computer terminals for browsing, or both.

  30. 30
    soco says:

    I pretty much get all my fiction at the local library – closer to my house than any bookstore, great selection, new releases often available the day of release, excellent online request system and all my books gathered for me in one spot near the checkout – verrry nice when one has a high-engery 3 year old in tow.  Peaceful browsing is simply not part of my life right now.  Oh yeah, and I’m there most weeks for storytime, anyhow. 

    I’d rather spend the money and shelf space on books for my daughter who 1) hasn’t quite mastered the art of treating books gently and 2) likes to read the same books over and over and over and over.

    When I do buy grown-up books, it’s usually from – free shipping through work no matter the $$ amount even if it’s for personal use and easy for the recipient to return if it’s a gift.  And one less errand to run with a high-energy 3 year old.

    Target is one of the last places I would buy books simply because the book area is way too close to the toy area.  Can’t go near it unless I have an extra hour to spend looking at all the Dora and princess toys.

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