Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why a Bookstore?

On most Wednesdays, we host a story hour where a very talented story teller reads books and entertains kids for as long as their attention spans last. Our children's section has a big comfy teddy bear, a stuffed dog, samples of picture books and pop-up books, and toys for kids to play with. We also run a young reviewers program called Fresh Ink, that gives kids a chance to read advanced reader copies of books (which they can keep) and have their reviews published on our website and on a blog. On December 8th, 2010, we hosted an event, with Whole Foods for the poetry anthology, Poets for Haiti, with the proceeds from all sales going to Partners in Health, capping off a year filled with events big and small. We also now run a blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account sharing reviews, recommendations, author interviews, and news from the book world, along with our website with links to bestsellers, IndieNext List selections, Featured Titles, staff picks, our event listings and more. Our in-store displays are like the “Also Bought” feature except instead of some mysterious algorithm spitting out book titles, we have intelligent, passionate readers choosing and arranging the books around important and fun themes. And we love talking about books in all forms, whether through 140 characters a pop or long conversations in the store. And we can do all this because people buy books.

As the world of book buying changes at an increasing rate, people are beginning to ask why bother with a bookstore, especially when most of the time the book you buy is going to cost you more at a bookstore? If I can buy a book for $9.99 from my computer at home why go anywhere else? Well, you buy more than a book when you buy one from a bookstore. You get to pop in after dinner and wander around the stacks for a while or flip through a magazine while drinking coffee; you get a landmark to help you organize meet ups with your friends; a safe place to bring your kids; somewhere to go when you just need to get out of the house; you get a place to meet with your book club; to have a heart-to-heart with an old friend; and a perfect setting for a first date ("So...did you like Freedom?" "No." "Ok, then....") Buying books from us keeps our rent paid, our lights on, and our doors open. And if you don’t feel like going out, you can do the whole shop-from-the-comfort-of-your-own-home thing with us too, for books and ebooks, from our website. Every metal folding chair we put out for events was paid for by a book purchase. Every conversation you have with a bookseller (about a book or otherwise) was paid for by a book purchase, as was every stuffed animal in the kids section, every blog post you enjoyed reading, every author picture you looked at on our Facebook page, and every gift we wrapped for free over the holidays.

Does this mean you should feel compelled to buy a book every time you just happen to stop in to warm up or use the bathroom on your walk home from the train? Of course not. We just ask that when you’re thinking about buying a book from Walmart, Amazon, or some other heavily discounted venue, you think of everything else you get when you buy a book from a bookstore and compare prices as you must, of course, do. Sure the Amazon book is cheap, but it won’t come with a conversation about how Hollywood filmmakers never really capture the essence of Pride and Prejudice, or a free flip through a copy of US Weekly, or a tip on the next big experimental short story writer in translation, or, well, anything else.

But let’s face it, sometimes all that other stuff you get from us isn’t as important as the cost. Sometimes you need a book and would like to have coffee money for the week left over after you buy it. There’s nothing wrong with that. You should have options when buying books and some of them happen to be deep-discount joints. Just remember us with your holiday or birthday money or when you get your tax refund, or during that few day (or week) high after you’ve gotten a raise or a new job.

It might be best to sum this up with an old truism. Sure, their books are cheaper than ours, but, as with just about everything else in the world with a price on it, you get what you pay for.


Theresa Milstein said...

I'm sharing this on Facebook. I love Porter Square books and other bookstores where I can wander around the aisles and receive recommendations from a well-informed staff.

philly_bookgirl said...

This is a great post, Josh. Porter Square Books is what I miss most about living in Boston. For me, the store was all you mentioned in your post and so much more. Now only if I could find an indie in Philly as special as Porter Square Books . . .

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