Question of the Month: Amazon, B&N or Indie?

by Susan Henderson on March 2, 2009

Tell me where you buy your books: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, an independent bookstore?

And since there’s so much talk about the changing habits of readers, tell me if your buying and reading habits have changed in the past few years, and how.

Thanks for answering this one because I think it’s at the heart of the problem the publishing industry is trying to fix.


Wednesday, Random House’s District Sales Manager, Ann Kingman, will be here. Maybe you’ve noticed, but I’ve been trying to bring guests to LitPark who could give you peeks behind the curtain of the publishing business. Sometimes, I think writers have this idea that there are monsters behind that curtain, and maybe there are. But not this time. You’re in for a very nice surprise, and a fascinating conversation. I hope you’ll come back and join us.


One last thing: LitPark now has a FaceBook page, and I’ll be so happy if you join! And here’s another nice surprise, there’s even a FaceBook group for Mr. Henderson’s ex-girlfriend, who wrote about him in one of her books and now sports a Tipper Gore hairdo. You can join that group, too!

{ 111 comments… read them below or add one }

djtuffpuppy March 1, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Powells for older books and browsing. Whenever I go there I always walk out with at least two books I didn’t know I needed. for newer books because they tend to be cheaper.


troutbum70 March 2, 2009 at 1:57 am

Full Circle in OKC. Anywhere actually. I don’t like Barnes and Noble or other chain bookstores or resturants for that matter. I’m all about buy local. I will use Amazon for the more obscure books I read. Support the little guy they need all the help they can get…


Nathalie March 2, 2009 at 2:52 am

FNAC? (That would be the best know bookstore chain in France. The people that man the book sections are usually very good.)
I love real bookshops best as they allow me to browse through the books at leisure. Besides: I LOVE bookshops. The smell. The touch and feel of the books. I am a unabashed paper fetishist. And I do prefer a small bookshop that might allow me to chat with the people there about favourite books.
Internet I use by necessity, books in French and English being in scant offer in Rome. Or when I send gifts (books are my favourite option).


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 6:57 am

Interesting how you (and everyone so far) uses Amazon only as a backup. Whatcha reading, btw?


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 7:00 am

Tell me about a local bookstore in OK. What’s the atmosphere like? Can you find books you’re looking for, or is it like looking through the bookstore owner’s own interesting bookshelf?


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 7:05 am

I love your description of the bookshops and forgot what I’m missing when I shop online. What language do you usually read in?


KatrinaDenza March 2, 2009 at 7:35 am

Indie! My town is fortunate to have a great independent bookstore and so far, it’s still hanging in there. They’ve done a lot to compete with the larger chains. I can order a book and it arrives in less than three days and the buyers really pay attention to what their customers like to read.


Nathalie March 2, 2009 at 7:40 am

English, French and Italian. I try to alternate the languages but the books in English are slightly more numerous.


EllenMeister March 2, 2009 at 7:56 am

The closest bookstore is a Borders in Syosset. It’s kind of my home away from home. And they’ve been very good to me there, sending staff to off-site events to sell my books. So I really feel like I have a relationship with the store. I also love our common haunt, The Book Revue. I can spend hours there browsing, and of course attending their events. I’m lucky to be a short drive from several excellent B&Ns here on the North Shore of Long Island. I also buy books online at Amazon. I have an Amazon Visa card so I get cash back to spend there.

And yes, my buying habits have changed considerably since my husband has been out of work. The public library has been seeing a lot of me …


Amy_Nathan March 2, 2009 at 8:53 am

I have only one bookstore near me – a Borders. I have a B&N 30 minutes away. I usually know I can get books cheaper on Amazon and I usually go that route — if I am certain I want a book. If I want a book buying experience — I go to Borders. I actually find it easier to browse books via the internet — but it’s not the tactile experience I love. I thought about buying a Kindle (another post, I’m sure) but it’s not only reading that I love, it’s the actual books. I can’t give them up. And yes, my book buying habits have changed. In the past I’d buy a book if I thought I might like it, might read it eventually. Now I only buy a book I am sure I’ll read and reasonably sure I’ll love — and now I buy one at a time and I used to buy stacks.


glecharles March 2, 2009 at 9:26 am

I’m very much in the tactile camp, and love nothing more than browsing the shelves of a bookstore, no matter who owns it, but Amazon has definitely become my primary bookseller over the past few years. It’s not just price and convenience, but also the combination of the ability to post reviews and their recommendations based on past purchases which have tipped me off to several interesting books and/or authors, especially as my tastes have wandered into new and different topics.

I noted on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that indie bookstores could learn a lot from what Amazon’s built, localize it, and better position themselves as the locus for a real community experience that goes beyond just price and selection, two areas where they’re simply not going to be able to compete. My “dream job” remains opening my own bookstore/cafe!

PS: I also bought my wife a Kindle last year and she loves it, so another win for Amazon there. I do have qualms about the DRM issues, but I think that’s more publishers’ short-sightedness to blame.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 10:05 am

I’m so in awe of people like you who are capable of reading literature in more than one language. I know just enough French, Chinese, and sign language to order lunch and have some kindergarten-level conversation, but I can’t read Invisible Cities or Les Miserables in their original forms, and, man, would I love to.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 10:06 am

Hi Kat! What’s the name of this wonderful indie store? I’ll link them, if you like- seems like they know how to hold on to their customers.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 10:11 am

I love hearing about the relationships between the bookstore owners and their customers. That doesn’t happen at the bigger stores or online. Let me link The Book Revue because they do some impressive things to bring online readers back to the physical store again and again:

About local libraries, I’ve started donating the bazillions of books the publishers send to me, thinking I’ll review them. At first I worried they’d think I was pesky, but now that I know they’re happy to get new hardcovers, I bring them about 20 a month.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 10:15 am

You’re more of a pragmatist like I am. I’m not all about the experience, though, sometimes, I wish I was that kind of person. I usually have a few specific books I’m deciding on and I don’t like to waste my time reading anything so-so. And then I just click around, check them out, make my decision, think about whether I want a paperback or if it’s something I would rather download and hear on my iPod while I’m exercising.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 10:20 am

I love the review system on Amazon, too, because it makes the average reader and Kirkus equals. Brings the nuts, too, but what’s equality without nuts?

I think you’ve got your finger on something big here, though, and that’s the idea that indie bookstores, if they want to survive, have to be able to reach those of us who are used to the ease of Amazon. My dream job is knowing someone who owns a bookstore/cafe and becoming a fixture there!


aimeepalooza March 2, 2009 at 10:49 am

I am a fan of indie. There is a little shop in Ann Arbor called the Shaman Drum. Every book on every shelf is good. You can walk in, close your eyes, pull a book off the shelf and find yourself with a wonderful book. I love it.

PS. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but being that Borders is an Ann Arbor based company…be prepared for your Borders to close. It is circling the drain as we speak. And, note to book store owners: do not replace book lovers with MBA’s to run your business.


KatrinaDenza March 2, 2009 at 11:31 am

Hi, Susan,

Here’s their website: Reply

KatrinaDenza March 2, 2009 at 11:31 am

Woops! That didn’t work so let me try again:


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Love hearing about these indie stores. Here are a couple of links for the Shaman Drum: And:

And amen to your comments about MBA’s. Any change to the publishing industry that leaves the critical element of a passion for books out of the equation is the wrong direction.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Well, that’s weird, my computer won’t let me click on the replay link to your other post – it simply moves me back to the top of the screen. Oh, well, I’ll link your bookstore again right here:

The website kind of reminds me of the Home Depot advertising in the Sunday paper, but really great staff picks and pretty photos of the store!


JD_Rhoades March 2, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Hey, Country Bookshop! My hometown Indie! Well, sort of…I live a few miles away these days.

it’s a combination. I’ll always drop into an independent shop, browse, and often buy. I did all my Christmas shopping at indies.

But when I need something in particular, I’ll go to Amazon rather than drive all the way there just to find out it’s not available.


Kimberly March 2, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Like most: D: all of the above.

I’ve a B&N just a few blocks away, and since the local used bookstore in my ‘hood closed, it’s the default “I need it right now” option. But spending hours at Strand is so worth the subway ride and I try to get to the library at least once a month – even if I don’t check anything out – just to remember why I love books in the first place. Something about a library trumps any bookstore for me. It brings back my childhood in a way very little else can.

And of course, Amazon for discounts, bulk shopping and free shipping.


AndreaGillies March 2, 2009 at 2:21 pm

It’s ironic in a way that it’s the book omnivores like me (us) that spend a lot of their income on reading who have become Amazon’s success story and power base. If you know what you like, read the reviews online and paper, and are constantly amassing a Wishlist in your head/diary, Amazon is irresistible. 6 clicks, 6 books, money saved, delivered to the door. I think, though, that it’s important to resist where we can, so I’m trying to change the way I bookshop this year. First, I go to the second hand bookshop here in St Andrews (Scotland), and to the charity bookshop. After that, to Waterstones, one of our big high street brands. If that fails, to Borders in Dundee, for the mega-store books’n’cappucino experience. It’s shocking, how often I fail to find the books I have listed in my handbag diary, even there. Instead, the stock gets narrower, with multiple copies of big sellers, and items they have thrown their marketing weight behind, that will no doubt be promoted into being big sellers. This is a sore point at present as the Faber sales force, hawking my new book (comes out May in the UK), are finding resistance from the multiples who are much less adventurous and much less impressed by the idea of Literature than ever before.

Where I don’t tend to go is the privately owned bookstore in St Andrews, because in a desperate attempt to keep from going under its stock has become so depleted and bestseller/novelty/tourism heavy that I’m very unlikely to find what I want there. Course, if I were a model citizen, I’d order from them and pay full price and wait two weeks. I’m just not that patient.


Lisa_Kenney March 2, 2009 at 3:26 pm

I’ll be the bad guy. I order from Amazon constantly. I do buy at least a dozen or more books every year from Tattered Cover here in Denver, but the convenience of Amazon makes them my default source. I buy well over 100 books a year, both for myself and for other people. Although I do enjoy the book buying experience and have spent many happy hours browsing in brick and mortar stores, I look at those purchases almost like charity or a good deed.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 3:27 pm

You guys are really making an impression on me with all your indie bookshopping. I’m inspired to change my ways…


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm

The Strand is wonderful. And that’s another great point – if we do our shopping online, how will our kids know the thrill of wandering through a bookstore and picking up every book that strikes them?

(Are you coming out to our place this weekend?)


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 3:33 pm

See, this is the trick with indie bookstores. You’re at the whim of the owner’s taste. So if you (we) have better or broader taste, it can feel like picking through books at a yard sale. Or, if you know exactly what you’re looking for and it isn’t there, it’s just frustrating.

I’m glad you’re here, Andrea, and I love hearing about bookshopping in Scotland.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I’m glad you were willing to be the bad guy first because now I can say that I do the same. I order hundreds of books from Amazon every year because I’m impulsive and impatient and I don’t even have to get my credit card out. For a while, there was a lot of pressure on bloggers not to link to Amazon when they talked about a book, and I tried that for a while because it seemed like it was being more supportive of writers and non-chain bookstores. But what I found was that you lost the sale completely. Anything that creates one extra step (extra click, giving a credit card to a new unknown, a confusing website, etc) is something people don’t want.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Ooh, now here’s a very timely link asking how to drive traffic to indie bookstores instead of Amazon: (Thanks for tweeting this to me, Nathalie!)


BookwormLD March 2, 2009 at 3:48 pm

The primary answer for me is Amazon. I live in a relatively rural area; the nearest indie is 23 miles away in a town I rarely visit. While I do love browsing in bookstores, I rarely have the time. I tend to find out about books online and I either click over to the library system to order it, or click to Amazon to put it on my wishlist. As guilty as I feel saying this, it’s really hard to pass up the convenience, the choice of paperback, hardcover, or even used copies, for substantial savings delivered right to my mailbox.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Great point about being in a rural area. And I’m curious if this is true for you, but as guilty as those of us who are primarily Amazon shoppers feel about choosing convenience over supporting our local stores, haven’t you also noticed (or maybe it’s just me) that, since Amazon, you buy way way way more books?


gaywalker March 2, 2009 at 4:31 pm

My family saves up for their trips to Denver (we live in San Diego)–and we go hog wild at Tattered Cover. Last trip, we bought 15 books at once. Otherwise, we buy one or two at a time, mostly from Amazon for convenience’ sake (occasionally B&N if we need immediately gratification because, alas and alack, no indies remain in our vicinity).

I have a Kindle, and given a choice, I’ll read by Kindle, especially since I can read chapter(s) and get a feel for books at my leisure. I also tend to download samples of books I want to read later because it’s easier than keeping lists (I don’t lose or forget them that way).

We face a real bookshelf crunch in our family of bookaholics (the library received 26 boxes of books from us when we moved, and we still feel a bit crowded, but we’re only one row deep, not two or three), so eBooks have a special appeal.


Lisa_Kenney March 2, 2009 at 4:39 pm

You make a great point. If I waited until I drove to an actual book store in order to buy the books I do, I wouldn’t buy half as many books. Amazon one-click appeals to the impulse buyer in me and I’ve bought countless books after clicking to Amazon from an online review or blog post.


carmelovalone March 2, 2009 at 4:40 pm

I would have to say I mostly shop at the Indy book stores in my neighborhood. I will buy at Barnes and Nobles only if I get a gift-card (Which I always do get for the holidays). I will shop too on Amazon, only if it’s something hard to find or a super-expensive coffee-table book, as they generally have the best deals-used books wise.

Ps. I am not into Kindle… thanks.


Carolyn_Burns_Bass March 2, 2009 at 5:34 pm

I would love to support indie bookstores more than I do, but alas, there are none within my normal radius. There is a terrific indie in Pasadena, Vromans (where Aurelio and I have met up a couple of times), but it’s a bit of a drive. I’m trying to keep the new Borders that opened nearby open by visiting and buying there. Even a big-name bookstore is better than no bookstore.

My dream bookstore would be part coffee house, part wine bar and all books. Yeah. With some chocolate thrown in there, too.


JamesRSpring March 2, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Here are my favorite indies:

San Diego: Warwick’s
Los Angeles: Skylight Books
Santa Fe: Collected Works
Taos: Moby Dickens

I also have twenty dozen used bookstores that I love.

Even after stating all of this… I’ll admit that I buy 18% of my books at a Barnes and Noble (What?! They’ve got ’em in stock.), 6% of my books at Borders, 2% at, and 37% of my books at Amazon.

Is it really our job to keep the corner grocer open?

I don’t know that it is. I used to feel that way. But now, at the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth, I feel that it is the responsibility of independent retailers to find creative ways to stay viable. Can an independent bookstore not have a kick-ass online store? Can the physical store not partner with an independent coffeeshop? Have a stage on-site for musicians and readings? Offer story hour?

Last June, the New Yorker cover depicted a woman meeting the UPS man with an Amazon delivery at the ground floor of her apartment, just as the independent bookseller next door was arriving to open his store for the day. (The image is here: )

I know I’d feel guilty, too. But should I really?

Kindle’s coming. The next generation of readers won’t remember physical newspapers. They’ll be well-prepared to read e-books. I don’t like it, either, but…


maria March 2, 2009 at 6:32 pm

I buy Amazon when I know exactly what I want; otherwise, when I’m in the mood to browse, I shop at second-hand stores or take a drive in to Boston and hit the remainders table at my favorite indie (Brookline Booksmith!). I *always* feel guilty about giving Amazon my money, but on the other hand, I don’t have the luxury of spending freely, so that 20-30% off quite literally enables me to buy more books each year than I could were I shopping locally.

Anyway, the logic I use to justify my reliance on Amazon is this: even though I’m not supporting an indie, at least I’m supporting more authors/publishers than I otherwise would be. (But even that doesn’t make me feel all the way ok about it…)


djtuffpuppy March 2, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Right now I am stuck reading books for school. They haven’t been very good this term. A lot of Horace and Plato. In my Satire class we’re just now getting to modern fiction. Christopher Buckley’s Boomsday is up next. Spring Break is in March and I hope to finish my leisure reading already in progress (Slaughter House Five along with others).


terrybain March 2, 2009 at 9:10 pm

A few people have reported trouble commenting here. If you’re having trouble, feel free to pop me an email at


Also, I thought they had stopped publishing books. Is that not true?


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 9:12 pm

I’ve heard so much about this bookstore. Here, for anyone who’s curious:

So interesting that you’re starting to prefer Kindle over traditional books. Is it because you only have one thing to carry, can read in the dark? Describe what you like about it.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 9:18 pm

I’d love to know how the various indie bookstores in your neighborhood are different. Different selections of books? Different look or feel? And do all indie bookstores have cats?

I’m not into Kindle either, but my son often reads books off of his i-Touch. Even when the real book is handy.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Mine are out of the way, too. When I meet up with friends, it’s often at a bookstore, but I think of it as an event, whereas online poking around can happen several times a day.

I’ll tell you what, though, if there was an indie bookstore with both coffee and wine within walking distance of my house, I’d practically live there.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Ha! I love the name Moby Dickens!

And I think you’ve got a great point here about stores having to change and continually earn your business. It’s a little bit like the people who say you ought to buy American cars, and I think, Shouldn’t I buy the car I like best? Or to bring the idea closer to home – in my neighborhood, about 30% of the stores are closing or have already closed due to the economy. There’s this one remaining indie grocery store, and every time I go there, the ice cream has freezer burn and the guy takes my credit card while he still has raw chicken on his hands. And after a while, and even a little before that, I decided I was going to buy my groceries in the mega grocery store instead. I know he can’t keep his store alive much longer, but why would I choose to go there? And also he’s cranky.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I’m not generally a browser, maybe that’s my problem with bookstores. I know what I want and want it fast. Children’s books are a different matter. We go as an outing and we spend an hour or two looking on every single shelf.

Here’s the link to Brookline Booksmith:


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Thanks, T. I made my account over a year ago, or whenever you switched comments to the new system, and I’ve never had to sign in again. I wish it were so easy for everyone else!


readinglocal March 2, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Living in Portland you have to be looking for the rarest of rare books to not be able to find it at the Powell’s City of Books store. Additionally nearly every neighborhood here has an indy bookstore, when you’re in the mood to browse. So to answer your question, one of the Powell’s locations is where I do nearly 99% of my purchasing. My wife though is all about the bargain, so she starts with, but often ends up on Amazon to save a few bucks.

I guess like another commenter mentioned it’s really what you’re in the mood to do. If you’re bargain hunting it’s going to be hard pressed to beat Amazon, if you’re more into the experience stopping into the local indy store and getting help from a bookseller who has been at it for the last 30 years will provide that.


SusanHenderson March 2, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Portland sounds like Heaven.

You make a great point about the selection of books in some indie stores. Powell’s, Davis Kidd, and The Book Revue are huge indie stores that feel a little bit like a Barnes & Noble in the sense that, when you go there, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for. Then there are those small, heavenly indie stores that have the perfect worn furniture and a selection of books like someone read your soul and stocked the shelves with only the books that speak to you. Then there are the indie stores that are like bad flea markets.

The more comments I read, the more I realize it’s the online presence, the chance to either order online or at least reserve a copy of something online, that will probably get a bookstore to keep my business.


BookwormLD March 2, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Re: buying more books . . . yes, I do think I buy more books since I began shopping online, as if I needed more encouragement! Amazon’s free shipping over $25.00 is a brilliant strategy, as it somehow gives you the feeling you’re saving money, but what it really does is encourage customers to buy more books. 🙂


readinglocal March 2, 2009 at 11:30 pm

I might have got a little carried away with the “every neighborhood” comment, but Portland is a city of neighborhoods and many of them do have an indy bookstore (and yes it is heaven, for a book nerd anyway!).

I agree with you. I think that if these small bookstores are going to survive it will most certainly not be on price point. They need to look to becoming more of a community hub, as a bookstore is one retail experience that invites you to hang out and stay awhile. Why not take advantage of that by offering services that people will start to need if they are there for an hour or so. Coffee, snacks, etc.

The idea of the store as community hub needs to be extended to the web as well, so that not only can they buy from you online, but they can also converse with fellow customers, have input on events held at the store, input on ideas for helping to grow the store, etc.


alexpatrol March 2, 2009 at 11:54 pm

I buy most of my books at indies. They have an editorial point of view, or a curatorial one, and when I walk in, their front of the store tables and shelves show books they love and stand behind. The B&N table is just full of books that people paid them to display, and they may or may not be any good.

Amazon I use to ship presents. I rarely buy things for myself on it. Amazon prime is a great deal, but their recs are so often wide of the mark with me. I am, though, excited about the Kindle, but they need to be better in their dealings with publishers, or they’re going to starve the goose that lays the ink eggs. Out of which they make gold.


alexpatrol March 2, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Portland is book heaven, for sure.


alexpatrol March 2, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Tattered Cover is a special place. And you’re clearly a special family. Keep up the good work.


Tobias_Carroll March 3, 2009 at 12:59 am

Indie — generally McNally Jackson ( in Manhattan or Word ( closer to home in Brooklyn. To the extent that I use Amazon, it’s more for DVDs; I’ll occasionally stop by a Barnes & Noble or Borders, but that’s largely when I have a gift card received for a holiday. (Looking through the comments, I see that I’m not alone in this.)

I don’t think my buying habits have changed much — maybe doing a little more direct buying from small presses, but I also do a fair amount of music buying directly from the labels in question, so that’s not a left-field choice for me.


gaywalker March 3, 2009 at 2:14 am

I have the original Kindle, so I can’t read in the dark… but I can read outside on a bright day without glare from the page. I can also carry a bazillion books in my purse without chiropractic injury (I have about 50 books on my Kindle now) but my favorite features are:

1) I never lose my place (it remembers where I left off in each book).
2) My hand doesn’t get tired from having to fight a stiff spine trying to hold a book open.
3) I can read one-handed and still turn the pages.
4) It’s easier to read in bed, no matter what position I’m in. The book stays open when I’m on my side and it’s propped against pillows.
5) I could read in the bathtub if I want without worrying about getting water on the pages. (Yes, I could. A ziplock protects the Kindle and I can turn the pages easily through the bag. Try that with a paper-based book!)
6) I can shop from bed, or the car (when I’m the passenger) and read multiple chapters before buying.
7) I keep my own novel on it, and exchange chapters with my writing buddy. We take our Kindles to coffee when we want to compare notes or discuss scenes.
8) It saves bookshelf space for the classics I will read over and over again. I buy my very favorite Kindle books in hardback and add them to my shelves.

I’ve looked at the new Kindle, but I like my old one just fine. I don’t think I’ll upgrade even though I do have occasional accidental page turns (the one new feature that I think would be cool is the change in the way you turn pages).


AndreaGillies March 3, 2009 at 4:13 am

This is so interesting. Have always been firmly Luddite on this question, loving the artefacts of books, their paper and weight and smell and the act of page turning. But I can see, having read your post, that technology could be complementary to a traditional book-buying/reading life rather than threatening it. Thanks. Food for thought.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 8:13 am

I forgot that feeling of having to read from someone else’s list. Enjoy those spring break books!


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 8:16 am

I agree, that helps me see it in such a different way. I still don’t think it’s for me, but that list describes my son’s reading needs so well.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 8:17 am

Hi Alex. Glad you’re here.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 8:22 am

Yes about *input*! I hadn’t even thought about that, but that’s what the internet has trained us all to expect – that we can comment, that we can consider ourselves a part of a community. And so a web presence should have that feature – if I go to your bookstore online and feel like I’m known and we have a relationship and my ideas are responded to with interest and respect, then I’m very likely to visit your store in person. A great online presence is one way these indie stores can get a huge step ahead of Amazon – because, while Amazon is convenient, they’re not building a personal relationship with anyone.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 8:28 am

I buy about 10 times as many books since Amazon. Don’t know if that’s great for bookstores, but it’s good for writers.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 8:30 am

Ha! I’m so glad you said that about the books that paid the heavy fee to be displayed on the front tables. And I never thought of that before, how the books spread out, cover up, on indie tables are done out of passion. You could actually walk up to the owner and have a conversation about those books. Very nice point!


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 8:34 am

Word is wonderful. And I’m going to plug Housing Works here just because I love them:

In the context of everything we’ve talked about here, it’s kind of unimaginable how small presses are surviving at all. That is the truest labor of love.


Aurelio March 3, 2009 at 10:08 am

Amazon and Indie. I got a gift card for B&N for Christmas, so I used that. We have a great family-owned bookstore in Pasadena, CA: Vroman’s. Any authors doing book tours shouldn’t miss it, and if you let me know I’ll come cheer you on!


Aurelio March 3, 2009 at 10:12 am

Carolyn, we are overdue for another Vroman’s meet-up or something.


carmelovalone March 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

Skylight books has a cat. A nice one at that. Skylight also has newer indy titles and has lots more progressive titles than most book stores.

My other book store is cool too but it just has a more traditional stock of classic books….it more so has a cool owner that I have known for years, so I go mainly to chat with him.


carmelovalone March 3, 2009 at 11:50 am
SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 12:09 pm

That’s fun to hear the difference between one store and another. You realize the real shame it will be if every store becomes a chain with the same layout and same stock. Here’s a link to Skylight Books:

I wonder while all the indie bookstores have the word NASA in their urls. My dad does a lot of work with NASA but I don’t think it’s the same one.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Wow, I sure wasn’t expecting that when I clicked on the link. I’ll have to take a closer look at that once my son gets home from school.

If anyone here has an iPhone or is considering getting one, please do click:


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I want to go to Vroman’s with you. Will you cheer for me even if I’m not doing a book tour?


kategray March 3, 2009 at 12:52 pm

These days, I usually go to amazon or Barnes & Noble. It’s too hard to go into indie shops with kids like mine. I was in a gorgeous one up in Brattleboro, VT (, and my older son was perusing, and tore a neat pop-up with trains. It was just purely that they were cramming in so much into a small space, he managed to hide really well until too late.
That aside, I do prefer small town businesses. I also love used book stores. We used to go to one out in Montana, which had a couple of stores, actually. We later found out that Ted Kaczynski frequented the one in Lincoln. I don’t know exactly what he was looking for, but at Aunt Bonnie’s used books, we were looking for summer reading. There’s another place I really liked, I can’t find it right now, but it’s up in western MA, near a Buddhist temple I visited a few times. It’s in an old river mill building, and while you cruise through used books, you can order pie and coffee. I like my books not only to be good, but to have some history. I think my favorite “indie” store was at UNC, though: There was just something nice about getting lost in there.

I think during times like this, a lot of folks go back to their libraries, which have, sadly, been mistreated in many places over the past (ahem) eight or so years. It’s amazing and depressing to me to see how hard it is for a library to acquire new books. Like many things in government, they overspend to follow rules and avoid red tape. The public library in my hometown was where I spent massive amounts of time, and I’d like to do that with my kids – between budget cuts and lack of staple books in the collection, I fear that it won’t be the same experience for them.
My own spending on books is more circumspect, and I buy stingily now. I always wait for the paperback, if it’s something I want to have in my collection.


Aurelio March 3, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Sure. I’ll even cheer for you right now:



SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 4:11 pm

I finally got to reading this NY Times review of a new book on Flannery O’Conner. It’s fascinating and reads like a gossip column. (Thanks for sending it to me, Mom!)


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Missoula has a surprisingly great book scene. I keep meaning to go to their annual literary festival.

Thanks for these great links!

And I mentioned it earlier in the thread, but for those of us who get bombarded by free books from publishers hoping for a review, please consider donating them to your local library.


Shelley March 3, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Heh, heh, gossip and Tipper Gore hair!

I buy books at Spoonbill, Sugartown Booksellers, The Strand, and occasionally at No changes in book buying habits, though, I have considered that reading rectangle… Thimble, I mean Kindle.


Shelley March 3, 2009 at 5:03 pm

This links Tin, Tatalum and Tungsten to cell phones, digital cameras, computers, etc. not just iphones. ( I don’t have an Iphone, because I do not trust at&t.) is the link for doing something for the people in the Congo.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Spoonbill has a great website:

Shelley, do you know the indie bookstore that’s also a coffee shop/sex paraphernalia store? (I know, only in NY.) I can’t even think what neighborhood it’s in, but I’ve never ever been in a bookstore with a better selection of books.

(Betsy Crane, you read there once, do you remember the name?)


Shelley March 3, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Are you talking about Bluestocking Books on Allen Street in the Lower East Side? I read there when it first opened.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 7:03 pm
BradleyParker March 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Since I just moved to Japan, and because my mother gave my a Kindle for Christmas, I’ve recently become a devoted user of Amazon.

But my one of my favorite places in the world is an independent book store. I love the local author section. I love the availability of self-published books. I love the smell. And I truly love a used-book store or at least one with a used book section. I can truly linger for hours. In New Orleans, my favorite stores were Maple Street Books, Octavia Books, Faulkner House books, Librairie Book Shop , and (of course) Crescent City Books.


gailsiegel March 3, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Amazon, Borders, the local used book store (The Book Den — where I’ve happened across many a great book that I otherwise wouldn’t have tried) and the library book sale. There isn’t an indy in my neighborhood, but if I go to a reading I will buy at The Book Cellar, Women and Children First, or 57th Street Books — all indies in Chicago.

I am definitely buying fewer books than I did in the past, and am using the library more. I never buy a book full price. Always a coupon. We are deep in debt, my husband isn’t working and I’ve got a kid in college. I’ve cut back elsewhere too — stopped coloring my hair and bring my lunch to work nearly every day. So I’m not just shorting the book industry.


lance_reynald March 3, 2009 at 9:32 pm

sorry I’m so late dropping in for this thread.

I live in Portland so Powell’s always my first stop. I love shopping the indies for contemporary literary fiction, artbooks, great magazine selection and contemporary design type things. Powell’s is bookstore heaven… and though Tattered Cover in LoDo was once my fave… Powell’s is now it.

but… if I’m looking for a classic at a dirt cheap price… I will hit B&N.

and… I know as a writer this might sound horrible to confess… if it is they type of thing that certainly is going to get an absurd sales volume (cookbooks, how to guides and stuff like that…) I kinda flatly refuse to pay full price… but… I don’t think Jamie Oliver and Giada De Laurentis are too put out by my bargain shopping for their titles.

but, I do prefer the indies… mostly for the above and beyond average selection and the simple fact that the employees and owners usually actually love books and writers. The few times I’ve been in Border’s or B&N I’ve found the staff just didn’t really seem to care about much more than the cold facts of inventory… and if I had any off the mass market request it really seemed as though I was a pest.

I enjoy the places that enjoy words. Powell’s, Tattered Cover, Kramer Books, Politics and Prose and the Stand have never let me down.


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 10:21 pm

What part of Japan?

I’ve been to a few of those indies in New Orleans. Are they still there?


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Ooh, The Book Den is really cute:

I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to AWP (economy) cuz I really wanted to see you. We could have gone to the library together and laughed about our hair going gray. xo


SusanHenderson March 3, 2009 at 10:28 pm

God, all you have to say is cookbook and I’m hungry.

So what is it about Portland that supports so many coffee shops and indie bookstores? And I’m serious about my question. Because there’s Portland and a few places in Canada where the arts just flourish and you wonder what they’re doing right? Is it a lack of Republicans?


BradleyParker March 3, 2009 at 10:30 pm

I’m now in Yokosuka, which is about 1.5 hours south of Tokyo. We’ll be here until (probably 2011).

As far as I know all those wonderful stores are still there. I know that Octavia, Faulkner, and Crescent City books are there. I’m fearful, however, that Maple Street Books might be closed.

I’ve lost hourse (usually out of the middle of a work day) in Crescent City Books. I couldn’t walk into that place without spending at least $50.


lance_reynald March 3, 2009 at 11:30 pm

well, as far as I can figure…
another big buzzword out here is “sustainability”.
I guess it just all links up in consciousness. the sensibility being a tilt towards community growth and a grassroots support of the arts. good places to see that in action are organizations like Community of Writers, Pear, Write Around Portland, the IPRC and the work Chloe Eudaly does through Reading Frenzy. (please don’t make me chase down the links… they’re all just a google search away)

and not to get political about it (as I tend towards extreme left thoughts myself) but I recall hearing Colin Powell give a talk some years ago (pre-W) about being able to make greater impact at the local community level… I think most Portlanders take that seriously. It’s not a perfect science, but it makes it a nice place to live.


AndreaGillies March 4, 2009 at 3:53 am

I have never been to the USA. We were talking about it – my H has been often on business. I think he’s going to be puzzled when I suggest Portland.


troutbum70 March 4, 2009 at 10:30 am

I am a devot Luddite and feel deep shame when I am sucked deeper into the technological abyss.


troutbum70 March 4, 2009 at 10:38 am

Wood floors, old rugs, well used chairs, free coffee. The shelves have little paper markers with a picture of a buffalo and the authors name to denote a writter from Oklahoma. Very well organized and a very knowlegeable staff. They seem to have all the works of authors not just the most recent or the most known. a great place to get lost…


SusanHenderson March 4, 2009 at 12:24 pm

For the first time in my life, I kind of long to visit Oklahoma! Thanks for this, Michael.


SusanHenderson March 4, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Um, I think I better go look up the definition of Luddite since it’s been used twice now.


SusanHenderson March 4, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Ooh, and a good thing I didn’t pretend to know because I would have been way off.

Here’s Webster: one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; one who is opposed to especially technological change

And here’s the pretty interesting historical context:


SusanHenderson March 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Let us all know if you decide to visit Portland, and we’ll line up some literary tour guides for you.


troutbum70 March 5, 2009 at 12:39 am

Had you pretended to know. What would you have thought it ment? I do love my ipod and cell phone and lap top, so I have fallen from the true faith.


troutbum70 March 5, 2009 at 12:44 am

It’s quite a place. Until recently I’ve never had a desire to go to NYC. Someday I will mark it off the list …


AndreaGillies March 5, 2009 at 3:36 am

Having read through this comment stream, I seem to be making mental notes of great bookshops all over the US and planting little flags, lighting little bookshaped lights in a twinkle light string. I can envisage doing a book pilgrimage with huge empty suitcases (or Groucho Marx sized trunks – I’ll get a porter to push and I’ll sit on the top and sing opera). I do get itchily frustratedly restless about the number of books in the world I won’t ever get the chance to look at, many of which would no doubt be life- (or at least consciousness-) -changing, and US publishing is no doubt full of gems we’ll never see over here. I get that way about world literature that isn’t translated, too. (And come to think of it, all the cities I won’t ever visit and restaurants I’ll never eat in). It may be a middle-aged thing….


SusanHenderson March 5, 2009 at 11:42 am

Not telling.


SusanHenderson March 5, 2009 at 11:45 am


I looked at pictures of Yokosuka – pretty!


SusanHenderson March 5, 2009 at 11:48 am

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing if someone were to organize an annual pilgrimage through independent bookstores and non-chain restaurants?

And I know exactly which Marx Brothers movie you’re talking about because my kids love to watch them over and over.


troutbum70 March 5, 2009 at 12:58 pm

aww. You wouldn’t be able to hear me laughing.


gailsiegel March 5, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I missed you. And you would have been SHOCKED at how gray I am now. Even I am shocked. I may give in, and color again. Right now I’m hiding the white under headbands. It’s a very preppy look (the headbands, not the grey) and not for me.

I met the most wonderful woman this year. Jessica Keener!!!!


SusanHenderson March 5, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Some day we’ll be celebrating the fact that we have a few of our brunette hairs left!

(I agree Jessica’s wonderful. I heard she thought the same about meeting you.)


Heather_Fowler March 5, 2009 at 11:49 pm

I am late, but pop in for this question anyway. 🙂 I’m rather indiscriminate. I buy books wherever I can get them. At readings, which are often in bookstores, I’ll buy. I’ll buy them at garage sales, at swap meets, at Borders and Barnes and Noble. Yes, I do use–for quick finds I don’t want to forget about when friends tell me book titles they think I should read. I also buy straight from the authors since I like signed books. 🙂 I’ll buy from independent presses too. Right now, a lot of independent presses are getting my business because of social networking–a Facebook or MySpace friend has a book come out and I like to buy his or her book when possible. 🙂

But I am a Borders binge shopper for childrens’ lit and classical lit and compilations of work by favorite writers. About online buying, it also depends on whether I’m trying to avoid that binge shopping. I do kind of like Amazon because it is quick and merciful to buy a single book–or three–and CHECK OUT–a feat I can rarely pull off in the coffee scented aisle on aisle book meccas… Not to mention what day of the week it is–on Monday or Tuesday I’m likely to do because the weekend (when I’d have time to shop) is too far away–must acquire faith in book coming now– and I have scores of books lined up to read already, so it’s not like I’m in a rush, but I like that once the book is ordered, I can rest assured whatever I hoped for will be a lovely mail surprise.

Oddly, I don’t like used books much. (I prefer to break my own spines, throw them around, and otherwise molest them, thank you. LOL!) So I don’t do much used book store shopping–but sometimes I buy books from booksales at libraries, where I don’t mind buying them used because old library books have good karma. Also, 50 cents to a buck at the library sale, 6 to 9 bucks at the used book store? At neither place does the author get more profit, so it seems like a no brainer, especially if I am “taking a chance” on a book by an unknown (to me) author…

I know, this makes no sense… *grins* But you asked. Hi, Susan! xo, H


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 6:35 am

I love hearing your shopping habits, Heather! And hi. I’m with you about used books. It’s like wearing someone else’s shoes, and their instep isn’t as high and they wore the sole down in the wrong place. I do buy used books when I’m researching, though. Sometimes I’ll need to do a quick read of something I never want to own (example: Marie Osmond’s story of why she walked out on her newborn, and other topics I abandoned), and those are examples of books I’ll probably buy in e-form in the future. I just finished my monthly wrap, so the rest of what I want to say here is probably said over there…


5speener0 March 14, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Oh, my, I’ve been away for so long…I feel as if I need to ask permission to play.

So, to the question, even if I’m late.

I’m at for the ease of it. I live in a small town with two “real” bookstores and one mall store. One of the bookstores doesn’t have the variety I’d like, but the 2nd one is great with a wonderful staff. Neither of the two stores has the social ambience that I like, and I’m usually so busy that I hardly ever visit. The mall store…I cannot remember the last time I visited.

When I’m in Greenville, SC, (one hr. away) I love going to B&N. I’ll take my time visiting and I usually spend way too much money. Going to Greenville is usually a multi-stop day, so it’s a planned event and I never feel rushed or too busy to stop at B&N; it’s also close to the wine store that we buy from, so it’s convenient.

My favourite bookstore, however, is in Asheville, NC. It’s called Malaprop’s and they’re also online. I LOVE Asheville downtown and Malaprop’s is right there in the middle of all the other stuff that I love (good eats, weird-looking people, art galleries, coffee shops, primitive teak furniture mall, lots of live music venues, an Indian restaurant and a beer garden!!!), so there’s a big pull. Asheville’s about 2 hours away, so it’s another of those planned visits. If I lived in Asheville, you’d be able to track me down at Malaprop’s. They have lectures and discussions and author appearances going on all the time!

Usually, with, I’m buying used books (so I can afford more) or I’m looking for friends’ books that I might not find at the local stores. There’s also that convenience thing (again!), which means that I can look for or order a book at 3 in the morning, if that’s when I’m in the mood or have the time.

That’s the good, the bad and the ugly of it. Convenience wins most of the time. 🙁


SusanHenderson March 14, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Hi Despina, Where have you been? I’m glad you’re here.

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Asheville, I think I’ll have to add it to my wish list of places I need to visit. (But first: Morocco, Turkey, Spain and Italy!)

I’m really glad for the honest responses to this question. What seems clear is that the indie bookstores that want to compete are going to have to find ways to appeal to those who’ve gotten used to the ease and convenience of Amazon. And when they don’t carry the books we want, can they still order those books?

Still, if an indie bookstore moved to my town, I’d practically live there.


5speener0 March 21, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Well, if Malaprop’s moved to my town, I’d be living there tooooooo! unless, of course, I was visiting Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Greece or Asheville. 🙂


SusanHenderson March 22, 2009 at 8:45 am



waterbucks March 24, 2009 at 2:32 am

This is a tough question. Things have changed so much for me in the last 3 years. I’m usually a big supporter of the small independent stores but they often don’t have what I want and I really like discovering books right on the shelf. So a large selection often has me heading to the big stores when I’ve skimmed the little guy’s stock.

But as finances tightened I started doing more shopping online. I’m pretty much only buying books from online friends from the least expensive source possible. The rest is library for the time being.

Unfortunately money makes a big difference in where I buy my books. If I can save $4 on just one book by shopping big stores or online – well, that adds up down the road. And these days, pennies count.


SusanHenderson March 24, 2009 at 8:00 am

These are all great points for indie bookstores to here. I don’t see how they’ll be able to compete longterm without an Amazon-like ability to get you the books they might not carry in stock. And while I love a day in a bookstore, I’m not really a big shopper. If I go shopping once every two or three months (if that) but I buy an average of 10 books a month (as I finish whatever I’m reading and as I hear of them). The wonderful news about this economic crisis is its sending us back to the libraries, huh?


Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: