This isn’t another blog about food, even if it looks it at first glance. Rather, it’s a blog about my love-hate relationship with bookstores these days. Also, my love-hate relationship with money. I love having money to spend on things I want, I hate not having enough to spend it without thinking first. No big deal, I have some money and that’s better than having no money. I have enough that I can afford to buy a book often enough I’m in no danger of running out of reading materials.

Now we get to the food part. A while back I ran across a nifty food blog while I was researching a recipe. Whenever I’m going to cook something new, I try to understand the dish, where it came from, and some of the science that makes it work. Enter the Food Lab. I was seriously impressed. Food, science, someone that was as interested in food history as I am… yes! And I noticed there was a book coming out. Now, I buy very few cookbooks these days. So I put it on the wishlist for a day when I’d convinced myself I needed it, and had the money to splurge on it…

That white cover, in a kitchen?
That white cover, in a kitchen?

Fast forward some time. We got together with family at the Joseph-Beth Books in Cincy this last weekend. While waiting for them (and worrying a bit, it was nasty weather!) we browsed. Like so many other bookstores these days, Joseph-Beth is big on gift items, knick-knacks, and stationery. Not as much on the book selection. Nonetheless, I found a hanfdul of titles that were on my wishlist. I picked them up, looked at the price, and put them back down again.

I’m perfectly willing to pay a little more to support an Indie bookseller. But J-B isn’t an indie, they are a chain. So I have no reason to dip into my wallet out of pity. And the price difference wasn’t a little amount.

I come back to The Food Lab book now. I knew what it was on Amazon, both in hardback and as an ebook because I had just looked at it again recently. Hardback price is currently $27.47. The price at J-B? It was a whopping 45% higher, the full sticker value of $49.95. Like I said, I’d pay a little more. But that is NOT a little price difference.

To add insult to injury? The book at J-B was shrinkwrapped so the casual browser can’t sully the pristine pages, I suppose. On Amazon I can click and ‘look inside’ to get an idea of what I’m buying. The only thing I learned about this book at J-B is that it’s a hefty book, and probably worth the price I’m about to pay for it on Amazon. The book, I’ll buy. The bookstore? We won’t be back. The bistro attached to the bookstore was very nice, not at all busy – we sat as a group and talked happily for 2-3 hours without worrying about keeping a table full, and this is in a shopping centre where I had to make several passes to find a parking spot.

In person bookstores can be wonderful. I have some favorites I will go out of my way to patronize. Used bookstores are a terrific way to find a new author without paying a lot to take a chance on a new experience, and to find old books that are no longer printed. Amanda Green talks about the value of the used bookstore today over at Mad Genius Club,  “Much like libraries, used bookstores allow people who either can’t or won’t pay new book prices to discover the work of authors they hadn’t tried before. We might not make a few pennies in royalties from that “sale” but we gain something else: word of mouth. That is our most important and powerful form of promotion. If someone likes something we write, they will tell their family and friends.”

But the slick chain bookstores are dead to me – and from the looks of the traffic in J-B, I’m not the only one who reacts like this.