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.


Shopping on Black Friday

For years I’ve said, rather smugly, I’m sure, that I wouldn’t shop on Black Friday.  Of course for the last ten years or so I’ve been at work on Black Friday, making the point moot.  But our work schedule has changed, and I was home today, and yes, I went shopping.  But not at the mall or the big box stores.

Two of the friends that I had Thanksgiving dinner with yesterday were going shopping last evening, which I never even considered.  (Their two top destinations were Victoria’s Secret and Toys R Us, which I thought was an interesting combination.)  But this morning, after several days of very cold and very wet weather, was cool and sunny, perfect weather for getting out and doing something.

I don’t do much in the way of Christmas shopping, but I had some things I needed.  I was running low on cat food, I have a friend with a birthday next week, and I always need something at the grocery store.  So I set out with my shopping list and coupons, only to discover that the vet clinic (where I get the diet food that doesn’t seem to causing any noticeable reduction in Nutmeg’s weight) was closed for the weekend.  But by then I was out and about, so I went on to Office Depot.

Office Depot was not crowded.  I bought a supply of pens, one of those folding cardboard science fair display boards (Jo Anne and I use them to hide our jigsaw puzzles from the cats, and the current one is falling apart), and a stuffed panda wearing a red and white muffler.  Okay, so I’m a sucker for stuffed animals, even at the office supply store.  And then the lady at the check out offered me an 800-sheet package of paper for $4.  Couldn’t turn that down.  No writer ever has too much paper.

Office Depot is next door to Half Price Books, as if I needed an excuse.  And I had a coupon.  So I came out with  Charlaine Harris’ Dead Ever After, the last Sookie Stackhouse novel (I haven’t read the previous one yet, but I’ll catch up), Janet Evanovich’s Takedown Twenty (I’m up to date on Stephanie Plum’s adventures, and this one will go on the To Be Read Soon pile), and two collections by David Sedaris, whom I always enjoy when I catch him on NPR.  And a stuffed Frost Dragon.  Told you I couldn’t resist stuffed animals.  Half Price Books was fairly busy, but no more so than usual.

Next stop, Bed Bath & Beyond, which was probably the most crowded store I hit today.  I found a birthday present and some kitchen stuff–I don’t cook much, but I like gadgets.  No stuffed animals.  And then on to Barnes & Noble, which Fixing to Diewas not as busy as I expected.  I bought another birthday present there, and one book for myself, Fixing to Die, the latest installment in Elaine Viets’ series about mystery shopper Josie Marcus.  I’m a couple of books behind on that series (and a lot of others!), but I’d never pass up one of Viets’ books.

Finished up at the grocery store, which was crowded (I thought everyone was eating leftovers today), for a few things, which somehow cost me another eighty bucks.  But I remembered the birthday cards I needed and a few cans of non-diet cat food to tide Nutmeg over, and succumbed to temptation when I spotted the half-price sale on Dreyer’s ice cream (I bought mint chocolate chip, my lifetime favorite).

Tomorrow is small business Saturday, and I’ve been trying to think of some independent shops in my area.  Once upon a time there were lots of small books stores, selling both new and used books, but sadly they’re all gone now.  Maybe I’ll have lunch at a non-chain restaurant.  Or maybe I’ll stay home and read.

Going to California

My trip to the RWA National Conference in Anaheim is less than three weeks away, and I don’t think I’m ready.  It seemed like such a long time off when I signed up at the end of March, and here it is staring me in the face.

Last year when I was getting ready to go the the conference in New York City, I shopped every Saturday for weeks, pretty much starting from scratch.  Business Casual around the Scorekeeper means a shirt, jeans, and sneakers, and I wanted to be a little more upscale than that.  After all, we go to writers’ conferences to meet people, and I didn’t want to look like an aging ragamuffin.  So I bought some good slacks, a pair of comfortable heels, and a couple of shirts.

The only luggage I had was old, heavy, and up in the attic.  I left it there, and bought an inexpensive three-piece set of light-weight canvas, two rollers and a tote.  I used the larger roller for the trip, and this year I may use both rollers.  They haven’t been out of the closet for anything else.

I had absolutely nothing formal to wear to the Awards Ceremony, and as a Golden Heart finalist I would be up at the front of the room.  Where people might see me.  I finally found a nice black and gold top and a pair of dressy pants.  Many of the women at the awards ceremony will be wearing evening gowns, but I’ve never owned a floor-length skirt in my life, and I’m not going to start now.

I’ve made a stab or three at shopping over the last few weekends, but my heart hasn’t really been in it.  I made passes through Dillard’s and Macy’s, thinking I might find a different, more colorful top to wear with the black pants, but nothing caught my eye, and I decided to stick with the black and gold.   I’ll be up at a front table again, but no one will remember, or care, that I’m wearing the same outfit.  I won’t be the only one.

This morning I headed over to the mall with the feeling that if I was going to shop for the trip at all, I’d better get moving.  I was surprisingly successful.  I found a black leather purse, bigger than the very small one I bought last year, smaller than what I use everyday.  This one will hold my wallet and my Kindle, my new phone, plane tickets and notes.  It might even inspire me to pare down the amount of junk I carry around everyday and never use.

Is it just me, or is it really hard to find a plain white shirt these days?  I see people wearing them.  Where do they buy them?  At a uniform store?   I was about ready to give up when I stumbled across the only rack of solid color (well, mostly) shirts in the store.  I found two white ones (one plain, one with pleats down the front) and one with grey and white stripes.  Grabbed them all.  A pass through the jewelry department even netted me a new pair of earrings to go with my black and gold top, long dangly ones, perfect for dress up.

So I’m covered.  I’ve done my shopping.  I have enough to wear and suitcases to put it in.  Now I have to go through the seventeen-page list (I am not kidding) of workshops that I downloaded from the RWA site this afternoon and figure out which ones I really want to cram into those three short days in California, in between the reception and rehearsal and appointments, dinners with friends, and hanging out in the bar stalking agents.

I can’t believe I’m leaving in seventeen days.  I’m not ready.

Computers and Confusion

When I registered for the RWA National Conference, coming up next month in Anaheim, I started to think about buying myself a New Gadget.  Last year at RWA in New York City, my friend Jo Anne Banker and I shared her laptop computer and an in-room Internet cable.  We checked email and I posted daily recaps here, mostly for my critique group.

This year I’m going alone, faced with the prospect of several days off the Internet.  I don’t have a laptop, or even a smart phone.  I do own a cell phone, a pre-paid Tracfone that makes phone calls and receives occasional text messages–from Tracfone, offering me more minutes.  I don’t need more minutes.  I have enough rollover minutes to talk for weeks.  I’ve never even tried to send a text message.  I have used the phone to call AAA when my car battery died, and to let Jo Anne know I’ll be late to work at the Scorekeeper.  Now and then I have to turn it on for the convenience of a repairman, like the fellow who came out to my house last week to pronounce my twenty-two-year-old air conditioning system dead.  I detest the feeling of being tethered to that little phone.

So upgrading my phone service isn’t particularly appealing.  Maybe an IPad?  People seem to love them, and they certainly are beautiful.  But I have an e-reader, and I really have no desire to watch movies on a screen the size of a book.  Come to that, I don’t seem to have time to watch movies in the comfort of my living room very often, and when I do I have a lovely HDTV meant for that very purpose.  I’ve seen BlueTooth keyboards for the IPad, but I haven’t heard anyone rave about writing on one.

So a tablet’s probably not the solution either,  if I’m going to buy a New Gadget.  I like toys as much as the next person, but I have a practical streak.  I may be thinking of staying in touch with my Houston friends while I’m in California, but I need a better excuse than that for spending several hundred dollars.  Especially after writing that large check to the air conditioning service last week.  And opening the bill for my annual homeowner’s insurance premium this afternoon.

Clearly, if I need anything at all, I need something that will take me to the Internet for email and blogging and research, that will let me read books with a Kindle App, and mostly that will encourage me to get busy and write.   Sounds like we’re talking about a computer, doesn’t it?

Yet Another Use for a Computer

So this morning I drove over to the local Fry’s Electronics, where I bought my current desktop computer a couple of years ago.  Fry’s is a huge store.  Even the twenty percent or so of the floor space devoted to computers is overwhelming.  I went in telling myself I wasn’t actually going to buy a computer today, and I had no trouble sticking to that.  There were just too many choices, and none of them jumped up and waved at me.

My other errands took me near the local Best Buy, another really big store, but not quite as cavernous as Fry’s.   Not as many choices, and what they had was better organized.  They had a nice Hewlett Packard computer at a reasonable price (I’ve been an HP fan for years), and next to it was a sign offering a visit from the Geek Squad to set up a home network for $70.  That’s tempting.  My techy friend Ha (who buys all his electronic equipment on line and keeps the computer network at the Scorekeeper running) tells me I can easily add a wireless router to my DSL modem, but I’m not so sure.  It took me an hour on the phone with a nice lady in the Philippines to get the DSL modem working in the first place.  But if I buy a laptop, I definitely want WiFi available at home.  I’m not going down to the local Starbucks to get on line.  I don’t even like coffee.

Then the salesman (who was born several years after I bought my first computer and wouldn’t remember what passed for a “portable” computer in the 1980s) showed me a couple of UltraBooks.  Talk about tempting–usable screens and keyboards in a computer about the thickness of a real spiral-bound notebook.  The Toshiba model even managed to squeeze in a CD drive.  Amazing.  And, of course, twice the price I had in mind.

No, I didn’t buy a new computer today.  I’m sliding in that direction, but I’ll think about it a bit longer.  If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

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.

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