I am one of them. I am scum. A scoundrel. Rude, obnoxious, miserly, cheap.
I confess: I have gone into an independent bookstore with my phone or laptop, browsed, then purchased the books I wanted on my Apple device — inside the bookstore.
I did not carry the books to the cashier and buy them. No. With withering impudence, I hit the Amazon app, clicked twice and bought the books online, saving on average $8 per title. It was disgusting. It was exhilarating.
And it was wrong. No matter it was a decade ago, that cute little caper still reeks to high heaven. What I hate is that it’s probably worse than, if not equal to, what small bookshops are now dealing with: the tacky phenomenon of “showrooming,” explained here by The Guardian:
“Of all the insults that booksellers stomach, the most awful is the newest. Gone are the days when it was someone shoving a book down their pants … Now it is ‘showrooming’: when customers go to physical shops only to research purchases they will make online. This is a bugbear of the booksellers who have been engaged in a David and Goliath battle with online retailers for the past decade.”
Adds Keith Edmunds, a former bookstore owner, at Mental Floss: “They’ll come in and use their phone to take a picture of the cover and barcode and just use the bookstore as the Amazon showroom. It’s awful.”
It is awful. It’s gauche and sneaky. It gives one’s moral relativism a mighty workout.
As mentioned, I showroomed. Some 10 years ago at my local indie bookshop, I scanned the shelves for Vietnam travel guides, plucked three or four volumes, went to the bookshop cafe, cracked my laptop and bought the best titles — online, at huge discounts.
Back then, I thought this was hand-rubbingly clever, cutthroat capitalism in action: Screw you, full-priced bookstore. I found a real deal!
Even now I don’t like paying $18 for a new paperback that I’m not sure I’ll like and that I can usually get in used condition for $4 at Amazon (one penny, plus $3.99 shipping). And I admit, guiltlessly, that I shop Amazon a lot, though I’m more inclined to use the library these days, saving cash and trees.
On occasion I will haunt our local indie bookstores, used and new, but my fealty to them isn’t ironclad. I feel more spiritually crushed paying $27 for a book at the store than paying $16 for the same product online. It’s a virtue vs. Visa smackdown.
I want to support the local shops, yes, but it comes at a literal high price. I have philosophical quibbles with Amazon, even if many authors do not (word is they profit more from high-volume discount sites than full-price brick-and-mortar outfits).
What’s not cool is showrooming. If you’re going to drop cash at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, do it at home. Looking at books in a store helps you shop with accuracy, and asking staff questions about titles is invaluable. And why you’re there, you might actually buy a book from the indie shop, a move that could abet its fragile longevity.
A great tweet from the owner of Fountain Books in Richmond, VA, recently went viral:
“We had a lot of ‘showrooming’ today: people taking pictures of books and buying them from #Amazon in the store and even bragging about it. This is not ok, people.
Find it here.
Buy it here.
Keep us here.”
4 thoughts on “The shame of ‘showrooming’ bookshops”
Glad you’ve seen the error of your ways Chris. The indies need all the support they can get. But it is a dilemma when faced with a full priced new paperback from a store and the option of a really cheap good condition 2nd hand book on line. I always try to buy from my local bookstores, but when money is tight I do use on line options.
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I’m with you all the way. It really is a dilemma. But I’m like you — when cash is tight I head online; when not I love shopping at indie shops, with their staff picks, great selection and unmatched knowledge.
I’m guilty of doing something similar, but I think not quite as bad. I go into bookshops and look at books and then check to see if the library has them. Yes, I should probably just buy them, but I don’t have the room for more unless they’re something I know I’ll read again, and I’m not going to stop reading new books, so there aren’t many other options!
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The library really is my savior nowadays, too. Still, I usually get my info about new (and old) books via the internet, the NY Times Sunday Book Review, Literary Hub and all sorts of other outlets. I rarely have to enter a bookstore anymore to be enlightened. That said, I LOVE small indie bookshops and get a contact high just walking in.