Mea Culpa Mea Culpa Mea Bloody Culpa (but then again maybe the bookstores will have to shoulder this one)

Last week, RedGroup went into administration and along with it a number of Australian and New Zealand book chains – Borders, Angus and Robertson and Whitcoulls. Of course, the media have gone crazy blaming the darn internet again (my god – prior to 1994 you could only blame society). With the gradual decline of the print newspaper (hell, they’re giving them away at 8am these days) the media are bitter, enraged and ready to snarl at any hint of online business having healthier sales than a bricks and mortar company.

Now I am being implored by the media to “put my money where my heart is” and support my bricks and mortar independent bookseller and stop buying from those horrid online bookshops.

Well, let me say this to the book chains and indies.  You lost me, and a large chunk of the book buying market (romance readers), by being disdainful of our reading choices. I have spent decades struggling to source romance titles and finally have found places that will not only stock them but will sell them to me at a lower price than venerated bookstores can supply them. Why should I change my buying habits. As it stands, I would still have to source my titles through the online bookstore to give to my indie who has actively chosen not to supply them.

Yes, I do love my indie. Their loyalty program is splendid, their staff are friendly and knowledgeable (and all greet me by name) and for years they would order in books for me (back when I really didn’t feel comfortable with online purchasing). These books were, inevitably, romances.  But did this impact at all upon their book stocks? Well – they always stock Jennifer Crusie. But that is it. Despite the fact that they had staff that enjoyed the genre and and that they had customers that enjoyed the genre and that they had genre sections throughout the shop (Sci-fi, Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Crime) my “beloved” indie chooses to not sell Romance. Somehow, I suspect that independent bookshops would prefer to declare bankruptcy than to dedicate any space to the romance genre.

When you have a mortgage or family  or other responsibilities to look after, your book buying priorities change. Thankfully, I work in a public library so access to millions of books is at my fingertips. These same millions of books are accessible to any Australians who visit their public library. To find these books Trove is the best source for titles held throughout the country. That said, I love my keepers and I am all for the adage of “Buy the best, borrow the rest”. So when I find that I have borrowed and renewed a book multiple times and I am deeply in love with it I will go out and purchase a copy for my home.

I find that I buy approximately 20 books a year for my whole family and I buy these books from various sources. Now, the difference between paying $20 per item by going through my indie/chain or paying $8 for the same book through Book Depository/Amazon – it’s a no brainer. And it is insulting to my intelligence to beseech me to stop buying online. Franky, that “leftover” $12 supplies my home with 10 litres of milk (which lasts 3 days) or 1.5 other book titles. A win/win situation for my family.

And if the issue is “Buy Australian” there are a number of generalist Australian online bookstores who do supply romance titles and promote them, discuss them and enjoy them too. They provide a wonderful service and operate in a similar way to indies (except they know what their customers want to read). And their prices are reasonable, too. A shout out to Booktopia and The Nile.

The question is: do I still buy from my indie? That would be a resounding yes though not as much as I used to. I buy all my Australian and New Zealand authors and publications from them. It is the same price (and in many instances, cheaper) than buying those titles online. Will this save the store? I don’t know. Would I return to my local indie if it set up a romance section? Perhaps. I love reading the last pages of a book before I buy it and I also love skimming through a book to get a sense of the language that is being used. Once again, I can’t do that online. So it would really depend on the price and the quality of the titles being sold.

The important point to observe is that readers who choose to buy their books online do so for a number of reasons, be they cost driven, being too busy to be bothered going into a bookstore or quite importantly, inaccessibility of titles readers want to read.

I am putting my money where my heart is – and my heart is with the suppliers of books that I like to read. So if this means that bricks and mortar bookstores will close down I will be amongst the many who will be saying “Mea Culpa”.

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