By Connie H. Deutsch
Books have always been my passion and I buy far too many just because I don't want to miss something that looks interesting. I contributed greatly to the small bookstores over the years and if I started to read a few pages of a book and saw that I wasn't going to like it, the managers or owners of these small stores would always let me exchange my book for something else. They profited substantially because whenever I exchanged one book, I ended up buying three or four more books.
Sad to say, I couldn't support all the small bookstores and they eventually went out of business because they couldn't compete with the large chain stores. I also learned that just because a chain store was in my neighborhood, that didn't really qualify it as a neighborhood store because the personal element was missing. One of the vast differences was that its Return policy was very rigid and they wouldn't budge an inch to accommodate my needs.
After the chain stores replaced the Mom and Pop bookstores, I remember bringing a book back to one of these stores. The salesman I had been dealing with for a long time told me that he could no longer exchange books for me like he did when he worked for the small bookstore before it went out of business. He said I was welcome to sit in one of their chairs and read any book in their store before deciding whether to buy it or not. This was nuts. I thought this must be the mindset of bureaucracy because it didn't make any sense.
In the past, when a bookstore allowed me to take a book home, I would read a few pages to decide if I liked it well enough to keep. I made sure to keep it in its pristine condition so that it could still be sold as a new book. If I saw that I wasn't going to enjoy it, I would bring it back and exchange it for a few more books that caught my eye while I was looking for a different book to replace the one that I was exchanging.
The chain store's policy still doesn't make sense. I've seen people sitting in chairs reading books in their entirety and then putting them on a nearby table to be reshelved without buying them. I'm amazed that the employees don't tell the customers to go to the public library which is only about five or ten minutes away, but the truth of the matter is that the employees don't seem to care. In fact, they seem to be careless of how they treat their customers altogether, but that's another story for another time.
I have watched customers abusing the privilege of being able to read a book in the store. Many of them think nothing of eating something while they are reading a book and turning the pages with dirty fingers. I've also seen them bending the corners of pages to mark their place or bending the spines of these books for easier reading. It's like watching the death of someone you love. I can't do it.
Enter the Online bookstores which, if the chain store mentality doesn't shift soon, may someday replace the need for physical bookstores. The small bookstore was so much of a staple in our lives that it was hard to imagine their extinction, and yet, like the dinosaurs, they, too, became extinct. As much as I've always loved hanging out in bookstores, enjoying the feel of holding books in my hands and exploring their myriad subjects, I can still see the advantages of a Virtual bookstore. There is no doubt that it's a whole lot easier to let your fingers do the walking through the Online bookshelves than it is to have to call all the bookstores in town to track down a particular book.
Long before the economy took a nosedive, publishers and writers had been having a tough time because people weren't reading the way they used to. I remember going into bookstores and having to make tough choices because there were so many new books that kept coming out and I wanted to read them all. Unfortunately, with the advent of cell phones and video games, books lost their appeal to millions of people. Publishers stopped taking chances on new writers and started reissuing books of popular authors that sold well in the eighties. The whole industry changed.
Today, publishers aren't printing as many books as they once did and self-publishing has taken on a life of its own. People have so many distractions in their lives nowadays that they don't want to make the effort to read anymore. They get most of their news from TV or the Internet and most of their information from magazines. E-books have become very popular because they are short and to the point and they don't take too long to read. So the market is shrinking . . . the number of readers have shrunk, the number of bookstores have shrunk, and the list of new authors waiting to get a break, have shrunk. The only thing that hasn't shrunk in the book industry is the Online bookstores.
I'm probably one of the last holdouts for buying anything Online, yet when the chain stores wouldn't let me return unread new books, I eventually found an Online bookstore that lets me return them without question and gives me the option of a full refund or an exchange. It even gives me free shipping if I spend a nominal amount on my purchases. I've yet to ask for a full refund. I always opt for the exchange. This company knows what it's doing. With customers like me, who read four books and then buy seven or eight to take their place, companies like this will stay in business for years to come.