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Book shopping US style

On a business trip across “the Pond” this week it struck me just how different bookstores are in the States compared to back home in the UK. 

First thing that struck me was how much more expensive it is to buy books here than at home. Fifteen dollars seemed to be the going price for most of the books I picked out of the shelves, which at current exchange prices would be around £11 – this for a novel that I know would come in about £9 if I went to Waterstones. Since I was browsing rather than looking for a particular title, it made name think twice about buying anything that seemed just ok. 

A bigger surprise however was the lack of any marketing promotion to encourage me to buy. I know the ‘buy one, get the second book half price’ has been questioned by the book publishing world and authors who fear this cheapens their work. But it encourages me to buy more on spec and to try authors I have not read before. So on the whole its good for business. 

But in the large branch of Barnes and Noble (a chain I view as equivalent to Waterstones in many ways) that I visited last night, there was little sigh of any real promotion. They had two tables near the one entrance which contained recommended novels but nothing close to the numbers of titles you’d find on the tables at Waterstones. A few end of aisle promotional stands were doted around featuring low cost copies of the classics or a movie tie in. But otherwise they seemed to devote more space to books linked with St Patrick’s day. No evidence of any discounted titles other than the kinds of hard back science, nature or cooking books you’d see in the discount stores like The Works. 

Even among the shelves themselves there wasnt any real marketing going on, just the very basic categorisation into Literature, Romance, Young Adult and then straightforward alphabetical ordering. No end of shelf labels pointing me to particular popular authors and none of those personal touches like the handwritten notes from sales assistants with their recommendations. 

As a shopping experience goes it was less than impressive so I left empty handed which is rare for me. Ok they had comfy sofas in amongst the aisles as well as a coffee shop but I was there ready and willing to buy and they did little to encourage me. At a time when the real bookshops are fighting for survival against the virtual outlets surely they should have been trying harder?

Is my criticism too harsh. Am I being unfair? I’d love to hear what some this our experiences have been of bookstores around the world and how they try to create a positive experience for shoppers. 

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