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?


But the Calendar Says January!

The weather is absolutely gorgeous today. The sun is shining, the air is dry, and the temperature is in the sixties. Where I live, southeast of Houston, we haven’t had a freeze this winter. We have had a string of eight or ten days when the temperature never went as high as fifty, and if it wasn’t raining it was threatening to, and we’ll have more days like that before spring returns. But we don’t have ice storms, frozen highways causing forty-car pileups, or widespread power outages like our neighbors to the north. We figure our mild winters are a reward for sticking out hot summers, swarming mosquitoes, and occasional hurricanes.

So I’m not complaining about the change of seasons by temperature or calendar—it’s the middle of January, after all. No, what bothers me is the seasonal calendar the retail industry works on, the one that seems to run three months ahead of the rest of us.

I didn’t mind that the stores filled up with Valentine candy the day after Christmas. Chocolate is chocolate, whether it comes in hearts, pumpkins, or Easter eggs (any day now, I’m sure). But when the temperature dropped and my bedroom got chilly during the first week in January, I thought I’d buy a set of flannel sheets.

I love flannel sheets, always have, even when I lived in the suburbs of Miami as a girl. And I have at least two sets in the cedar closet. But when I bought a new mattress set last spring, I replaced a set that was twenty years old. I’m not sure why mattresses get thicker every few years, but they do, and one of these days we’ll all need those steps you buy for arthritic old dogs to climb into our own beds. I have a Queen-size bed, but with the new mattress and foundation I have to buy King-size bedspreads, and none of my old fitted sheets fit. I replaced the summer sheets (with a much higher thread count than I’d had before, very nice) and around November I even bought a blanket, but I forgot about the flannel sheets.

Until I needed them. Then I went looking for flannel sheets at the usual places—and they were all gone. The shops were full of bathing suits and summer clothes, and all that Valentine candy, but no flannel sheets.

Well, I thought, I’ll pull out that set of microfiber sheets I bought last summer. They felt so good to touch in the store, and so hot and sticky on the bed. I’d put them away, thinking they’d be good in the cold weather. Nope. They were still sticky, and not particularly warm.

So after a week of tolerating those, I made one more stab at finding flannel sheets, braving the acres of parking lot at my least favorite big box store (the one that has thirty-six check-out lanes, six of which are open at any given time), searching the bedding section, finding lots of microfiber and jersey along with the plain cotton, but no flannel.

Until I stumbled across the last few sets on a rack full of leftovers of various sorts of bedding. There wasn’t much to choose from, but I found a Queen-size set in blue with big cartoonish snowflakes, not what I would have chosen, maybe, but definitely flannel. And cheap, especially after a sales woman appeared with a big price sticker gun to mark them down.

I love my new flannel sheets, but I guess if I want another set before next August (when the bathing suits disappear and the sweaters come out), I’ll have to order them on line. Nothing goes out of season on line.

Meanwhile, on sunny days, we have visitors like this in our neighborhood.


HOW Old Was That Mattress?

We’ve all heard that we should replace our mattress every seven or eight years, but since we generally hear it from someone hoping to sell us a mattress, it sounds more like advertising than truth.  It has been slowly dawning on me, though, that my mattress might be aging faster than I am.

One day last week, after I spent yet another night sleeping fitfully, waking often, and getting up with a sore back and shoulder and even a bit of a headache, I thought, not for the first time, that my mattress might be a problem.  I knew it was old, bought well before Jack’s passing in 2002, but it still looked beautiful, it wasn’t saggy or lumpy or even stained.  Of course it hadn’t been flipped in years: turning a queen size mattress over is not a one-person job.

The thought of a replacing the mattress had crossed my mind over the last few months, but this time I did a little research.  My old SpringAir was a fine innerspring, but these days mattress construction is much more complicated, with layers of memory foam and gel, padded tops, cooling vents, and all sorts of new ideas (including no mattress turning!).  When I got home Thursday evening I opened the Filing Cabinet of Seldom Used Information and found a file marked “product info.”  About halfway through the stack I found the sales slip and brochure I was looking for.  I’d bought my mattress in March 1994.

Eight years may be a sales pitch, but twenty years really does seem to be a ripe old age for a mattress.  I’d paid slightly under a thousand dollars for the set, delivery and sales tax included, in 1994, and I’d certainly gotten my money’s worth.

But shopping for a mattress?  We’d bought the last one at a furniture store, but these days, at least in the Houston area, there’s a Mattress Firm shop wherever you look.  When I checked their web site store locater, I found five within a few miles of my house.  Seemed like a good place to start.

After looking over the offerings on the web site, I left the house on Friday prepared to look.  My Smart Shopper side was determined to take my time, window shop, compare all the options, maybe buy something next weekend.  My inner Impulse Buyer snuck my Discover card into my wallet.

So I found myself at the Mattress Firm Super Center in Webster, Texas, looking over a sea of beds, probably forty or fifty of them, with no idea where to start.  But the sales woman, Pamela Wells, has been in the business for fourteen years, and knows exactly what questions to ask.  She listened carefully and then pointed me toward a Simmons Beautyrest, which felt absolutely perfect.

Of course, Smart Shopper then dragged me around the showroom, with Pamela in tow, and made me lie down on half a dozen others, including the high-end TempurPedics (which actually felt a little creepy to me, but that’s why there are so many mattresses to choose from).  I didn’t bother to lie down on the set that cost almost $7000.  A good mattress is one thing; insanity is quite another.

And then I went back and stretched out on the first mattress again.  And it was good.  And it was in stock.  And I had my Discover card.  And there was even a sale going on in honor of some made-up bedding industry holiday.

There was an open spot on the delivery schedule, too, for Saturday afternoon.  The delivery men showed up on time (despite the rainy weather), and as Pamela predicted, they had the old set out and the new one installed in no more than ten minutes.

The new mattress is at least four inches thicker than the old one (which was four inches thicker than the bed it replaced twenty years ago), and the first fitted sheet I tried on it (an old favorite) didn’t fit.  My newer sheets are fine, and last night I climbed up there to try it out for real.

Nutmeg Avoiding the Invasion of the Mattress Men

Nutmeg Avoiding the Invasion of the Mattress Men

Was it an overnight miracle?  No, I won’t go that far.  I woke up a few times, and I still had a few twinges this morning.  But my back didn’t ache, the twinge in my shoulder was minimal, and I felt more rested than I have in a long time.  It has the Nutmeg seal of approval, too.  She didn’t join me until early this morning, but as soon as she ate breakfast, she was back on the bed for her regular morning nap.

So I’m happy with my purchase, and with my dealings with Mattress Firm.  (I add that because most people who mention a business on line are complaining about something.)  My only complaint is that the experience seems to have pushed one of my rarely-activated housekeeping buttons, and I’m now sitting here waiting for the couch cushion covers to make their way through the dryer cycle.  I am not looking forward to wrestling them back onto the cushions.

By the way, did you know that used mattresses are considered toxic waste?  Think about it.


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