Book Guilt

Foyles bookshop came to Bristol, and I was so excited that I wanted to queue outside for the opening. At work instead on opening day, I waited until the weekend, dragging Ben down into town with me for my intended statement of support for the miserable book trade. I knew what I wanted to buy, and I was going to buy it, at cover price, from a brand new book shop. I work in publishing and I was going to set an example.

I got there. It was beautifully laid out, but not very busy. I browsed and flicked pages and pointed things out, and settled on the books I wanted. Wandering around the shop with them in my hand, I realised gradually that I couldn't go through with it.

I think I'm ruined for bookshops. Spoiled by Amazon, too used to glorious second-hand bookshops and spoiled by internet undercutting. Even my guilt didn't stop me from buying both of my chosen titles (for the price I would have paid for one in the bookshop), from the Amazon machine. I was reminded of my guilt by this New York Times visual of beautiful cover designs that were discarded along the publishing way – it's a perfect illustration of just how much time and energy goes into every book, and puts my miserly attitude to shame.

One day, I tell myself, when I have the means to do it, I'll go back into one of those new bookshops and I'll put all this right – the problem is, by then there might not be any of them left.


  1. Ugh, I feel the same.

    Although I have recently bought books at full-price from book shops instead of online simply because I couldn't wait to have it, and because I wanted a very specific cover design :p

    Mostly though, I have a really exceptional used bookstore in my city, and between that and amazon, it's hard paying 15$ for a soft-cover book in a bookstore.

  2. i'm the same way. i don't think i've ever bought a new book for myself at the cover price, and the ones ones i've gotten have been as gifts. i'm like you, one day i'm going to do it...maybe.

  3. I'm exactly the same. It fills me with self loathing.

    If I had a lot of money, I would stroll into every single book store I passed and buy a heaping armful of books (my house would be the biggest fire hazard of all time)... but as it stands - I buy bags of books for a dollar or less each at book sales and use Amazon for almost everything else. Unless I find myself in a book store with some extra cash or a desperate need to have a particular book RIGHT THEN, instead of the several days later it would take ordering through amazon.

    At least I don't have a kindle or any of those other electronic readers (and never will, frankly - to me, books are portable enough as it is). That makes me feel a little bit better. Kind of.

  4. books in Australia are REALLY expensive so they're not just slightly cheaper online, they're less than half price.

    it's not so much that the book industry is suffering, it's book STORES which are places that i love to visit and browse when i have time to kill. The reality is though, if a book is $40 online, and $100 at the shop, i could buy 2 more books which means can't be a bad thing right? and yet, i still feel a bit guilty when i do it knowing that someone has to be getting screwed over in the process.

  5. I'm awful with money when it comes to books, so I always buy them new from bookstores. I'm also too impatient to wait for an Amazon delivery.
    I never realised how much places like Amazon were affecting book stores. It makes me sad to see the few book stores we have left closing and being replaced by yet another clothing store.
    Though I don't mind Borders closing...such an evil corporation!

  6. i'm with SJ on this: books are obscenely expensive here in australia, and it doesn't help that the price is printed in USD / GBP / EURO on the back...um, we all know the exchange rates (generally!) so we can see PROOF that we're getting ripped off. i too have bought books from amazon / the book depository for literally less than 40% of the shop price...

    i still buy books if i absolutely must have them there and then - and in this case they're usually art books or non-fiction books - and then buy others online...and if a book is cheap enough, i'll buy it in a shop (especially a local independent shop), but that rarely happens these days.

    but i wonder what will happen if more and more book shops close? at the moment they're kind of like libraries; browse, take a photo of the cover, then go home and buy online.

    it's a shame - but then i do feel like i've seen more smaller, specialist book shops pop up lately. perhaps a (good) sign of things to come?

  7. It's a strange thing that's happened with book shops, but it's true that places like amazon just makes you feel that a shop isn't offering you a good deal, even if that's the correct price. I read so much that i frequent libraries so I avoid the problem as much as I can.

  8. I'm kind of on both sides of the debate: financially, I also can't afford to buy all the books I want at the very high in-store price (especially in Australia, where books are notoriously expensive in physical stores), but I also write and produce books, so I know how much time and effort goes into making them, which deserves a decent price. It's hard, and there shouldn't be judgement placed on people in this debate. I think if you can afford it, it's your responsibility to buy books at full price, but if you can't, there shouldn't be any guilt buying books cheaper online.

  9. I'm amazed by the comments on this post - beyond doubt the best set of comments I have ever received! I'm not sure if I should thank you or just fall over. I'll reply instead.

    Kater: That's interesting that you're willing to buy from bookshops for a specific cover - I think if publishers and bookshops are to survive, limited edition designs with clever features are the way they should go - I would absolutely be swayed by great design and paper quality even if I could only get it in bookshops!

    Danielle: I'm so pleased to hear I'm not alone here – it does make me feel terribly guilty though.

    Mallory: Bags of books for a dollar sounds fantastic - I guess that way you'll always end up with something you didn't expect! That's my issue with Amazon, incidentally - in a good bookshop everything is laid out so that if you are looking at something you like, chances are it'll be right next to something else you might never have heard of, but would like even more - you really don't get that instant connection in the same way online.

    SJ: I had no idea books were so expensive in Australia - that puts me to shame even more when I baulk at a £7.99 paperback! I can't believe they charge that much! Shameful!

    Many Colours: You're beautifully balancing my awful amazon habit out (definitely a good thing)! I love that you're too impatient for an Amazon delivery (I secretly love getting parcels in the mail, which doesn't help). It always makes me sad when I see independent bookshops close though, as the homogenisation of the high street continues... I must confess to missing Borders' magazine selection though. I'm a hopeless contradiction.

    Annelouise: As I said to SJ, I really can't believe books are so expensive in Australia - it seems so bizarre! Quite hilarious of the booksellers to keep the other currency prices on too just to taunt you. I absolutely agree with what you said about independent bookshops becoming like libraries - there's often quite a similar atmosphere too.

    Rebecca: I know what you mean - Amazon starts to feel like the norm, which is terrible really - books cost so much more than that to make!

    Hila: I thought you might have an interesting opinion on this being both a writer and a reader. I also know just how much painstaking work goes into producing each one, and just how much they're worth, which makes me feel even more peculiar about hurting my own industry when I buy online.
    There again, I find it's the people who work in the industry – the ones who care the most about the survival of print books and bookshops – who are least likely to be able to afford to buy at full price. It's a self-perpetuating cycle.

  10. It sounds as though so many of us have book-buying guilt! I've spent so many years working in bookstores and am also involved in the book publishing trade... but I simply can't afford to buy books. I only buy second hand books these days. At the same time, I'm sorry to say that when I browse new books, I feel such disgust! So much nonsense getting published these days. I guess that's what the people want...


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