Changes in Book Buying

As I drift (slowly) toward independent publishing, I’ve been following several discussion loops and reading articles about the rapid changes in the publishing industry. I haven’t given as much thought to the changes in book selling in the last few years, although I did muse about the rapid decline in the number of local bookshops in my area (Where Have All the Bookstores Gone?)—over three years ago (January 28, 2012—goodness, I’ve been sounding off here for while now!)

 

The other day, though, I made a decision that brought home my own changing book buying habits. I have belonged to three of the Doubleday Book Club divisions for many years. When I joined the Mystery Guild and the Science Fiction Book Club in the early 1970s, I was living in New Iberia, Louisiana, and the nearest bookstore was in Lafayette, about twenty miles to the north. We didn’t have much money, and books were expensive. But the well-made hardbacks from the Doubleday mail order clubs were very reasonable, and I ordered a lot of them. (A good many are still with me.)

 

I kept right on ordering from them (eventually adding the Rhapsody club for romances) as we moved from Louisiana to Texas (where I had access to more bookstores, but not much more money), and as the book clubs moved from mail order to the Internet. Once in a while the opt-out method would fail me, and I’d get a book or two I didn’t order, but that was rare.

 

Then, over the years, Amazon happened. Ebooks happened. Over the last year, the Doubleday clubs responded with changes. Now, instead of opting out on specific books, one opts out on “member credits,” automatic charges to one’s credit card (no more checks, no more mail orders), good for one book each, with free shipping on orders of two or more. The standard book price has also risen to $13.99 (how old am I? I remember the Doubleday Dollar Book Club, where I was introduced to the novels of Phyllis A. Whitney).

 

I soon got tired of opting out of those charges (and the idea of supporting their cash flow in advance of ordering books annoyed me). Maybe it was time to abandon my old friends. I looked at my Quicken file and discovered it has been years since I ordered regularly from any of the clubs. Yes, time to cut that cord.

 

I belong to Amazon Prime, so I never think about shipping charges, and I’ve gotten used to pre-ordering books and having them show up in my mail box on release day (would that I had time to read them that quickly). Amazon and Goodreads are very clever about letting me know when an author I enjoy has a new book out. I buy a lot of ebooks, too, for my Kindle (Doubleday has added ebooks recently, but only through some Android app). And maybe my tastes have changed, and my favorite authors just aren’t showing up in the clubs these days.

 

So last week I emailed my membership cancellation to Doubleday. Amazon meets my needs, for the most part. And there’s the Book Depository for British editions, and Alibris for out-of-print books (got one from them just last week). But I still felt a bit of a twinge at parting ways with such old friends.

 

Meanwhile, I still have all those recently culled books sitting in my storage room (it will be a library again some day, I swear, just as soon as I get all those boxes out of there), waiting for a trip to Half Price Books, and I still hit the local Barnes & Noble once a month or so.

 

Where are you buying books these days?

books

A Visit to the Book Store

Every once in a while I remind myself that if we book buyers don’t buy at least some of our books at the remaining brick and mortar book stores, we have only ourselves to blame if those stores disappear.  So yesterday I drove over to the local Barnes & Noble, looking for two books in particular, but open to browsing.  And I didn’t even have a gift card.

The up side of book store shopping is good old instant gratification.  Yes, that’s always available on your e-reader, but if you want a physical book, even Amazon will make you wait a few days.

The down side, in a strange way, is the aforementioned browsing.  When I look for something on line, I usually know what I’m looking for, at least within limits.  When I wander through the aisles at B&N, I’m haunted by the knowledge that I’d really like to read about half of what I see, in spite of all those running feet of unread books waiting at home.  Cozy mysteries, which I love, seem to be taking over the racks, with backgrounds involving cooking, knitting, quilting, jewelry, witchcraft, and heaven knows what else.  They all sound like fun, and I will never get to most of them.

So I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed in a brick and mortar book store, and some times I go in with metaphorical blinkers on, protecting me from temptation.

Bad MonkeyThe first book that caught my eye as I walked in was Bad Monkey, the latest novel by Carl Hiaasen.  I’ve read all of Hiaasen’s hilariously wild novels, and I couldn’t pass this one up.  Even after reading the flap, I have no idea what part the titular monkey plays in the story, and I don’t care.  Perhaps because I lived in South Florida, where all Hiaasen’s tales are set, I have an extra appreciation for the ambiance, even though I haven’t been back in many years.

Then I went looking for the books I’d actually come in for.  The first was The Lotus Palace, by Jeannie Lin, who has proved The Lotus Palacethat there is in fact a market for romances set in ninth century China.  I’ve read several of her short novels and novellas set in that era and enjoyed them all.  The Lotus Palace is a longer book dealing with the courtesan culture of the Tang Dynasty, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

The Sound and the FurryNext on my list was The Sound and the Furry, Spencer Quinn’s latest installment in the adventures of Chet and Bernie Little, detectives extraordinaire.  Chet, who narrates the stories, is a dog who flunked out of police K9 training (“something about a cat,” as he vaguely recalls), and Quinn just nails his fuzzy, easily distracted, and totally loyal point of view.  I have all the previous Chet and Bernie mysteries on my shelf, and I was delighted to find this one (its official release date is still two days away).  The earlier stories have been set in an unnamed valley in the desert west (Bernie worries a lot about water conservation), but this time the team is headed for New Orleans.

I don’t read as much science fiction as I once did (but then I don’t seem to have time to read as much of anything as I used Mistto), but I let myself wander down those aisles, too, and there I spotted a novel by Susan Krinnard.  I read several of Krinnard’s futuristic romances when I was first introduced to the subgenre, but that was quite a few years ago.  The novel I picked up on Saturday, Mist, is about a Valkyrie trying to live a normal life in contemporary San Francisco.  I’m betting the Fates won’t allow that.

I know, I know, I didn’t need four more books for the TBR shelf, not after that long evening I spent reorganizing the embarrassingly large collection I already have.  But need doesn’t really come into the equation with books, does it?  At least I spread them out: a romance, a mystery, and a science fiction/fantasy.  I have no idea how to categorize, or even describe, Carl Hiaasen, but I recommend his books wholeheartedly.

Abibliophobia Strikes Again

Abibliophobia

I’ve suffered from abibliophobia all my life, but until recently I had no idea some kindred soul had coined a name for the problem.  Mind you, there’s no chance of running out of reading material in my house.  Along with the shelves of book I Really Want To Read, there are whole walls of books I can’t give up because I might want to read them again one day.  But I never go anywhere that might involve a waiting room or a meal eaten alone without a book (or these days my Kindle).

The truth is, I’m an incurable bookaholic, and I have no desire to change.  There are far more dangerous (or anti-social) addictions.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped at the local Barnes & Noble, armed with a Christmas gift card, and bought one book, a lovely large volume called Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions by Brian J. Robb.  I’d spotted the book on line and bought it brick and mortar; on the same trip I spotted several books at the store to order on line.  I have gift cards for Amazon, too, and they stretch farther.

Yesterday I made another stop at Barnes & Noble, gift card balance in hand, but I didn’t buy anything.  The particular book I was looking for hadn’t hit the shelves yet, and I knew that the box of books I’d ordered from Amazon was due to arrive.  And sometimes I find a bookstore the size of B&N overwhelming.  So many, many books that I would like to read.  So many, many books that I will never have time to read.  So many, many books that I should be writing myself.

book pileWhen I got home from my errand-running rounds, the big box of books from Amazon was waiting on my doorstep.  Four of the books are recently released romances by my Firebird sisters (that group is beginning to make me feel like a serious underachiever!):  Highland Surrender by Tracy Brogan, Midnight Shadows by Carol J. Post, and two by Kim Law, Caught on Camera and Sugar Springs.

Beguiled, by Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand, is a romantic suspense novel set in Charleston.  Dee used it as an example in her workshop on research, and it was the only one of her books I didn’t have, so when I saw it on sale at Amazon, I clicked it into my cart.  Darynda Jones’ latest tale, Fourth Grave Beneath my Feet is the latest release in her series.  I’m running behind on those; I’ve read First Grave on the Right (a Golden Heart winner), but Fourth Grave will be joining Second and Third on the TBR pile.

For pure mystery, I’d ordered Aaron Elkin’s latest Gideon Oliver novel, Dying on the Vine.  I’ve been reading this series since the beginning.  I’ve also read Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone novels since the beginning (the latest is wating for me), so I couldn’t resist The Bughouse Affair, the first in a new historical mystery series set in 1890s San Francisco by Muller and her husband, Bill Pronzini.

I should be able to hold off the Heartbreak of Abibliophobia for a good while yet.  Say, the next twenty-five years or so.

Shopping, Reading, and Random Thoughts

I was going to stay home and nurse my cold today, but the weather was so pretty (after a dreary, rainy day yesterday) that I found an excuse or two to go out.  When I stopped by Office Depot for a box of my favorite pens, I found myself unable to resist buying a pair of 8 gigabyte flash drives, on sale for $9.00 apiece.  I don’t need them.  I have flash drives all over the place, in my purse, on my desk, little ones in a box, more on my desk at work.  I remember when the first flash drives (I think most people referred to them as thumb drives then) came out–they held 128 megabytes of data and cost a hundred dollars or more.  I had friends who carried them around like talismans, their novels-in-progress safely hanging from lanyards around their necks.  Heck, not too many years ago I was working on a computer with a hard drive that only held 2 gigabytes.  Nine bucks–how could I pass them up?

Office Depot is located next door to Half Price Books, and how could I pass that up?  I went in looking for a copy of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, a book I remember fondly from my childhood (mumble mumble) decades ago.  A new movie version is just coming out, reminding me of the book  (although the movie, an animated Japanese film redubbed in English, is called, for reasons I can’t explain, The Secret World of Arrietty, after the protagonist of the book).  There were no copies of Norton’s books in the store, but I did stumble across a biography of L. Frank Baum, Finding Oz by Evan I. Schwartz, a bargain at two bucks, and I picked up another of Phyllis A. Whitney’s novels, Woman Without a Past.

Full shopping disclosure:  last week I ordered Deader Homes and Gardens, the latest comic mystery from one of my favorite authors, Joan Hess, from Amazon.  Being no fan of shipping charges, I found something else to buy (The Help on DVD) to bring the total up to the free shipping level.  Just made it, at $25.20.  Never mind that I’m working on a couple of Amazon gift cards that will keep me in books and movies for a while.  I’m still too cheap to pay for shipping if I can avoid it.  Yes, I know, I bought something instead, but it was something I wanted.  And we all know perfectly well why Amazon offers free shipping–so we’ll buy more stuff.

Sigh.  More books for the To Be Read Shelf.  You may have noticed I’ve had the same three books on my “What I’m Reading” sidebar for the last ten days or more.  I haven’t forgotten to update it.  I’ve really been that slow.  Busy at work, on day 50 of the current writing challenge (mostly editing on Bathtub Jinn lately, and I still need to work on that tonight).  The last book I finished was Haywood Smith’s The Red Hat Club, a funny, charming, and touching novel well worth reading. 

 We need a t-shirt, or a bumper sticker: She who dies with the most books wins.

Where Have All The Bookstores Gone?

No, that’s hardly an original observation.  It’s pretty clear to everyone who loves books that the world has changed, but I found myself thinking about it the other day, and making a list of those that have vanished from my corner of the world.

When Jack and I moved to this area, near the Johnson Space Center, between Houston and Galveston, in 1976, from a retail perspective we were in the middle of nowhere.  We were used to that–we’d moved from New Iberia, Louisiana.  We didn’t much care that the nearest shoe store was fifteen miles away, but we did set out to find books.

Back then there were two sources of new books nearby: a newstand with a substantial paperback rack (and paperbacks were pretty much all we could afford) and an independent book store, Allen Maxwell Books, located across from the Space Center.  Not surprisingly, Maxwell specialized in nonfiction and science fiction, which was fine with me.   We soon hunted down every used bookstore between Houston and Galveston, and there were a lot of them, ranging from paperback exchanges to permanent flea market stalls to serious dealers in military history (Jack’s specialty).

By the early 1980s Baybrook Mall sprang up like a giant mushroom and suddenly we not only had shoe stores nearby, we had bookstores, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton’s.  And then, oh joy, Bookstop moved in across from the mall, with a huge assortment of books, good prices, and even a discount program.  A few miles up the Interstate, MediaPlay opened a store.  MediaPlay not only had books, it had computer software (and I had a computer), music on tape and movies on video cassettes (hey, this was twenty plus years ago).  Heaven.

I think our local Half-Price Books opened in the mid to late 1980s, followed by a big bookstore that might have been a Crown store, but I don’t remember (and there’s an HEB grocery store there now).  That store never seemed to thrive, and didn’t stay around long, and that might have been an early sign of things to come.  By then I was hearing about a new source of books called Amazon.com.

So the Crown store, if that’s what it was, closed, and so did the MediaPlay.  But that didn’t stop Barnes & Noble from opening a store in the neighborhood–good.  But B&N also bought the Bookstop chain, and soon closed ours–bad, although you couldn’t really blame them.  Bookstop was practically on their doorstep, and had a better discount program.

The independent bookshops and the paperback exchanges were already falling by the wayside by the time Borders built a big store directly across the street from Barnes & Noble.  That never made much sense to me, but I shopped there from time to time.

But not all that often.  I had been a member of at least two of the Doubleday mail order clubs for decades, buying mysteries and science fiction from them since our New Iberia days, and over the years I bought more and more books on line.   Specific used books were easier to find through sites like Alibris than by searching used bookstores, although Jack and I enjoyed recreational book browsing, something that really doesn’t work on line.

Last year the Borders closed.  I didn’t realize it until I started thinking about this, but both of the mall chains, B. Dalton’s and Waldenbooks, are gone.  Most of the independents and paperback shops in this area have disappeared, although some survive in Houston: Murder by the Book, Katy Budget Books, and Blue Willow Bookshop, for example, all of which do business on line as well as in store.

I still belong to three Doubleday Book Clubs, science fiction, mystery, and romance.  I order from Amazon often, and not just for my Kindle.  But sometimes I want to wander through a bookstore and search the shelves for books I never knew I wanted.  Out here in the southeastern corner of Harris County, we have a thriving Half Price Books, and Barnes & Noble.  And not much else.  Yes, Wal-Mart and Target and Kroger carry books, and I’m glad of it, but it’s not quite the same.

The RWA chapters I belong to give away little prizes now and then, for various accomplishments and contributions, traditionally B&N gift cards.  It’s been suggested recently that we should switch to Amazon cards.  I love Amazon cards.  But I’m going to hold out for B&N cards.  We’re writers, and we don’t want to see any more bookstores disappear.  Do your part.  Buy a book now and then.  At a bookstore.

New Books from West Houston RWA Authors

We had a very active booksigning at our chapter meeting yesterday, thanks to the wonderful people at KATY BUDGET BOOKS.  KBB brings us our members’ new releases every month, along with a mini-bookstore of romance novels and craft-of-writing books.  If you’re in the Houston area, visit the store for new and used books, and if you’re not, visit the website for news, reviews, and online orders.

  Colleen Thompson’s new release is Phantom of the French Quarter, from Harlequin Intrigue, about a mysterious hero who lives in the shadows of New Orlean’s Vieux Carré District, until he must protect a beautiful woman in danger.

Shana Galen’s latest romantic adventure from Sourcebooks Casablanca is Lord and Lady Spy.  Does that great cover remind you of anything?  You can check out the book’s trailer at Shana’s web site.

Don’t Mess With Texas is the latest romantic comedy from Christie Craig, and the first in a new series from Grand Central’s Forever line.  Christie keeps us all laughing, and so do her books.

One of our members has THREE releases this month–she writes faster than I read.  Her latest book as Sharie Kohler, Night Falls on the Wicked, is the fifth book in her dark paranormal Moon Chasers series from Pocket Books.

Sharie’s alter ego, Sophie Jordan, has two new books.  Wicked in Your Arms is her latest historical romance from Avon, while Vanish is the sequel to her wonderful Young Adult novel Firelight, from Harper.

Out-of-town member Tera Lynn Childs (we miss you, Tera!) also has a new Young Adult novel, Sweet Venom, the first in a new trilogy from Katherine Tegan books.   This series, about the triplet descendants of the Gorgon Medusa, is darker than Tera’s previous books and is getting great reviews.

Some day I hope to be enough of a WordPress expert to get this many pictures where I want them on the page, but today isn’t the day, and I’m moving on (let’s see, lunch, finish the laundry, finish the scene I’m writing, judge a contest entry, maybe even read a little).  In the meantime, check out these books and web sites–I promise they’re all worth your time.

Yes, I made another pass through Borders.

No, I haven’t read the books from the last two trips, but sixty per cent off is too much for any book junkie to resist.  The Borders in my neighborhood is clearing out, but there were still plenty of goodies to be had, and I came away with two hardbacks and five trade paperbacks, about $100 worth of books for which I paid $40.  How could I resist that much shopping fun?

I started in the World History alcove, with an eye out for a book I didn’t find, and picked up two there.  The first was another “blame it on NPR” book, Pirates of Barbary by Adrian Tinniswood.  That goes on the stack with other books Public Radio interviews have turned me on to:  the fall of the Comanches, the history of Prohibition, and that scholarly biography of James Tiptree Jr.  Further down the shelf I found An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage.  Several decades ago I majored in anthropology and archeology at Florida State University, and I’ve always been interested in the history of foods and their connections to culture.  (I do have a couple of books about edible humanity in my library, from a project involving an Aztec background.)

In the mystery section I spotted a novel by Georgette Heyer, They Found Him Dead.  This is not one of the Regency romances Heyer is most famous for (I have a couple of those, as yet unread, on my Kindle), but a mystery first published in 1937, one of a dozen or so she wrote.  Somehow when I was reading my way through British mysteries of that era, devouring the works of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers and Margerie Allingham, I missed Heyer.  I haven’t read anything by Alexander McCall Smith, either, so I picked up The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, the first in what has become a very popular series.

On the science fiction racks I found an anthology called Chicks Kick Butt.  The title pretty much says it all.  Some of the names I’m familiar with, some I haven’t read, and the stories should be a good introduction to some new authors.

Not far down the shelf I found a recent edition of a book I have read a number of times, Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank.  Of all the Cold War era after-the-nuclear-holocaust novels, this was one of the best, and my personal favorite.  Written in 1959, when I was a kid being told it was possibly to survive an attack by hiding under my desk, and set in Florida, where I lived at the time, Alas, Babylon is a story of survival and hope.  The copy I found on my shelf when I got home wasn’t quite as far gone as the Wyndham novels I recently replaced, but it was printed in 1970 and cost 95 cents.  It would stand up to another reading or two, but the pages are yellow and the print is small.  I’m glad to have another copy, and I’ll read it again.

I may never read Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum again, but when I saw it on the bargain rack near the front of the store I picked it up.  Put it back.  Picked it up again.  The Tin Drum is a long, dense, complex German novel, written in 1959 and still hugely popular when I was in college in the late 60s.  My friends and I had quotes from the book on our dorm walls.  This edition is a new translation sponsored by Grass himself in time for the novel’s fiftieth anniversary.  It cost me $1.50, in hardback.

Bookshelves were going three for $100.  I was tempted, but I drive a Toyota.  Toyotas have big trunks, and I can fit a lawnmower in my Corolla, but I had to pass on the bookshelves.  I’ll just have to make more space on the ones I have.

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