Monday, August 24, 2009

What Do You Want From Your Local Bookstore?

A few weeks ago I read this really interesting blog post on BookSquare, about the first consumer research study that had been done, quite recently as it happens, on what people want from their bookstores. Apparently no one had ever thought to do a study like this before, and the findings were interesting. I won't repeat them here; you can visit the article to see for yourself.

First of all, my findings are highly unscientific and based purely on my own observations. And I may very well be mistaken. But it's all enough to make me wonder if independent bookstores are doing enough to reach out to an audience that's economically diverse and diverse in its tastes, as well as diverse culturally. I understand that paying full price for books is a middle class luxury, and one available to fewer and fewer of us. And I know indie bookstores can't compete on price with Amazon or even the big chains. But I'm wondering if that's the whole story.

When I go into any of the indies in my area, the first and most obvious thing I notice is that the crowd tends to be more or less female and more or less middle class in appearance. It's pretty well documented that most readers are women and it makes sense that most people paying full price for books are middle class. I also notice a few things about the books on offer- again, in broad terms. I notice a good selection of "Indie Next List" type fiction and nonfiction, I notice that some stores do better than others at hand-selecting titles not of the "Indie Next List" type, and I notice a distinct lack of genre fiction. I notice a preponderance of highbrow-ish literary fiction and only a smattering of popular fiction and nonfiction. The toney indie I shop most often, for example, would never be caught dead selling the upcoming Kathy Griffin memoir, or any other celebrity biography for that matter. And indie bookstores don't seem to be selling ebooks yet either.

What I'm wondering today is- assuming there is an indie bookstore near to you, and that you're aware of the option to shop indie online, apart from price, what reasons would you have for not shopping them? I'm not asking this question because I want to judge anyone or even argue- I'm just genuinely curious. What are they not doing for you? What do they not have? Does your local indie not stock the genre you read, like romance or Christian fiction or serious science fiction or fantasy? Without naming names, do you find the selections bland, or unimaginative, or just the same everywhere you go? Do they seem elitist? Would you be more interested if you were able to buy ebooks from indies? Those of you who love indie bookstores know what keeps you coming back for more- but for those of you who don't, what keeps you out?