The Price of Now: Why I Hate Bookstores

image from As someone who frequently buys books, I’ve started to notice a few counterintuitive things. Last night, I made a trip to Barnes & Noble, in an attempt to check out Paul McGuinness’s new article in Rolling Stone, only to find out that it’s the exact same, word-for-word tripe that got published in GQ last month. Already in the store, I decided to walk around and see if anything caught my eye. Notably, Nick Bilton’s first book I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works stood out.

I grabbed a copy, sat down, and read through his case-study on the porn industry and what other content industries can learn from their entry into the digital age; they are quite innovative, but many of the same ‘the sky is falling’ arguments came up. More on that later. Before I knew it, I had read the entire chapter. This happens on a regular basis for me.  I came across a few interesting assertions that would make for great essays. Compelled, I decided to buy the book, knowing full well—that if I waited until I got home—I could buy it cheaper on Amazon. But, I wanted it now. This is a title that I could’ve likely gotten for free, had I taken the time to contact the publisher and express interest in interviewing the author.

I didn’t want to wait. I’ve already got a number of books on the way and in a stack that arrived under that agreement. Oddly enough, I didn’t want to order the title on Amazon either. If I did, I’d either have to pay the $3.99 shipping charge or top off my chart to $25 to get it free. Since I’ve been trying to get better at reading the books I already own before I buy new ones, I decided against that route. This logic coming from someone who will use Filler Item Finder to identify a lovely $1 screw—just to get the free shipping bonus—all with the intent of never getting charged to receive an item. So, I made peace with my inner world and went to the front counter to buy a copy of I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works.

Chrunching Numbers

As always, the Barnes & Noble clerk pushed their membership, which would’ve saved me 10% on my purchase. I kindly declined. He rang up my book and announced a total of $26.75. I winced at the sting of purchasing from their store, because I know better. While I’ve heard of people buying books from Barnes & Noble and returning them once their Amazon shipment arrives; I opted not to do that. In my head, I came up with the excuse—that while I’d be content with watching the store go up in flames for their high-prices---I did like walking around, browsing, and the experience of holding books before I bought them elsewhere.

Therefore, if I wanted to continue to be able to do that; it meant buying a title or two from them. That way, they can keep the doors open, and if they close, I can feel less guilty about it. Once home, since I was forced to leave, as I’m always there until the very last minute, I determined that it was necessary to investigate the difference in prices. No matter how angry it made me. Amazon rests comfortably as my fourth jump screen in Chrome, right after Google, Hypebot, and Music Think Tank.  In less than five seconds, I saw the variance in prices and mumbled curses. Amazon is selling I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works for $16.50—a difference of $10.25. Disparaged at my impatience, I tacked on shipping to the Amazon price and saw, in theory, that I had only overpaid $6.26.

Had I shelled out the $25 to join the Barnes & Noble program, saving 10%, the price would’ve been $24.07. Compared back to Amazon, including shipping, that’s still overpaying by $3.58. To take in the full variable, with Amazon Prime, costing $79 a year, I could get books in two-days and save that $6.26. Since, I’m not paying $25 to Barnes & Nobel just to gain lower prices, when Amazon already has them marked down.  By now, I bet you’re wondering if I understand the basic premise of why it costs extra to shop in a real store. I do. So, let’s establish what exactly my overage of $6-10 for neary every book is buying me.

The Web Exists

First off, the store itself—the ability to walk in, browse around, and be helped by the ever adorable staff at Barnes & Noble—that’s one of the biggest differences. Though, if Amazon sponsored coffee shops and gave them hoards of Kindles, with the ultimate goal that caffeine junkies would eventually buy more books, as they sampled them; I’d go there in a heartbeat. Sadly, that future isn’t here yet.

A friend of mine argued that by walking around in a physical store and looking at their neatly laid out tables, Barnes & Noble has effectively lowered the discovery costs, enabling me to be exposed to books I would’ve have been exposed to otherwise. That works for the average browsers, but I have upwards of 750 titles on my Amazon wish-list; they aren’t helping me find books as much as they are helping experience them. I grab 3 to 6 titles of interest and read sections out of all of them; it gives me a better idea of if I’ll actually like the book. That, and, sometimes I do work via laptop in their store—that’s worth something too.

Pehaps, if Barnes & Noble chose to price their titles a little closer to their main competitors, I’d gladly shift my buying behavior. I’m sure there are other things that my $6.26 are paying for—amenities that the readers will kindly point out. But mostly, I’d argue that what I’m repaying for is the price of now. The instant gratification of getting what I want now, in my hands, something that I can carry home and read. Shouldn’t that be the bonus and not the cost? However, if they want my money as a regular shopper, rather than of a donation for feeling sorry about reading for free, maybe they should acknowledge that the web exists.

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