On bookstores.

Apologies for the extended absense. I was stricken with that deadly (to bloggers) virus of sloth, writers block and indolence….
I spent a good portion of my day today wandering around the CBD district of my home city of Adelaide, as I had various chores to do. En route to the various places I had to be, I popped in and browsed at the various bookstores that I know and love, but haven’t had a chance to visit…..


Australian bookstores are fairly solemn sorts of places, where the staff have been known to look at you funny if you make an excessive amount of noise. The atmosphere is generally akin to that of a public library, and it struck me today that the staff of bookshops tend to resemble librarians as well.
This was especially noticable at the second hand book stores. Here, you may pick up a bargain read for not much at all, but you might also pick up some real collectors items. My eye was caught be a complete set of Sir Winston Churchill’s complete history of the Second World War, which I would imagine would complement my own library rather well.
Some indeterminate haggling failed to get this set in my possession.
The staff at the second hand places are really serious bookworms. These are people who appeared to me to be people who are doing it for the sheer love of books- in appearance in one shop were two slightly elderly gentlemen (shall we say, mid 50’s?), frightfully well dressed and well spoken, who spoke in hushed terms, even though I was the only customer in the shop.
Heaven forbid that we should be discussing such a sordid thing as a commercial transaction; rather, it was the acquisition of knowlege and prestige that comes with owning such a prestigious set of volumes.
It could be a forbidding atmosphere to Joe Bookreader, though I quite like it when people talk to me in hushed, almost reverend tones.
Disappointed but not despondent, I set out to a place where I could not hope for hushed tones; I set out for Borders, the all encompassing American chain of bookstores which is doing for retail bookselling what Amazon.com is doing for online bookselling. I had a couple of books that I specifically wished to purchase. I could have bought them from Amazon but that would take a month to get out to me.
The place was packed. The store is not actually superior to other bookstores in competition to it, but it actually goes out of the way to make shopping there a friendly and pleasant experience (if you don’t mind the fact that it’s kinda crowded). The store is set out in an aesthetically pleasing way, there is a cafe where you can enjoy a coffee and a slice of cake while you peruse your new purchase, and there are people who are paid to provide actual assistance full time to you in searching for that hard to find volume.
They did not have the books I wanted. I would have called for such assistance, but they were, well, busy. I did tell you that it was packed out.
Oh well. So I marched off to Dymocks, a much more traditional store which is about 50 meters down the Rundle Mall. Dymocks did have the books that I was after, and I wound my way through a rather empty looking store, and paid for them (without waiting in a queue) to the rather librarianish looking shop assistant.
There was no earthly reason why one store should be nearly empty and the other nearly bursting with customers. There is little price variation in the book trade, and Dymocks store had just as much range if not better.
You can put the whole difference down to the fact that Borders works much harder at making their stores a place that people want to be at.
What I find curious is that Borders have been in Adelaide for at least two years, and seem to be dominating the market. Yet in that time, the Dymocks store hasn’t changed at all. This lack of change may mean that Dymocks haven’t actually noticed that their market share of books has changed- they may still be selling the same amount of books that they always did, and that Borders is simply attracting a whole new group of people into buying books.
This doesn’t really make sense on the surface but I can’t come up with any other explaination as to why Dymocks have not made any changes at all.
Or it could just be that they are clueless. I used to work in an internet hosting company and we hosted their webserver. The guy running it didn’t know the difference between a router and a hub. I suppose in commerce it never pays to underestimate the clueless factor.

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3 comments

  1. James Russell

    You can indeed find some nice things at second-hand shops. I chanced upon a reasonably rare Colin Wilson book at a shop in Darlinghurst yesterday for $14… compared that with what’s currently available through ABE, and their cheapest copy is $12, although once postage from the UK was added on it’d likely be somewhat more than that. Another vendor on ABE was trying to sell the same edition of the book for over $200.

  2. Who Tends the Fires

    “News” via the Unusual Suspects…

    The Word for the Day is: “Reality Impaired” Heh. Via link from Electric Venom, it looks like it’s once again time for the Men Hate Women Bloggers Bloggerfest in blogistan. Kewl. We haven’t had one of these in ehrmm…. at…

  3. Christmas Ape

    There’s a nice second hand bookstore down the Hindley street end of rundle mall, up the stairs, can’t remember the name but I picked up some nice stuff from their the other day.