A few weeks ago I became aware of a new twist in buying books online. After I compiled my order and was checking out, I reviewed the list to make sure I got everything and saw that I had somehow ordered digital versions of the paperbacks I wanted. This is because on the bookseller's site the digital version now comes up first when you perform a search (and the icon that identifies it as a digital book is this little tiny thing on the order page I can hardly see.) Fortunately I was still at the point where I could delete the order and start over, but it really annoyed me.
It was also the reason I went to a book store to pick up my giveaway copies of The Icing on the Cake for the blog (as well as to keep to my vow of shopping more often at the brick-and-mortars.) I admit, I dislike this particular store a bit because I have to walk around the huge e-reader kiosk they set up where the front table of hardcover bestsellers used to be. But for once I got by it before the sales guy had a chance to push his demo at me, so I thought I was in the clear.
Not so. When I went to check out, the twenty-something bookseller manning the register noticed among my stack of lovely reads I had three copies of Alison Kent's book, and pointed this out to me with the superior concern of a young guy who thinks I'm so old and ditzy that I don't know what I'm buying. Rather than launch into a real explanation, or tell him to mind his own business, I smiled and said I was sharing them with friends.
Instantly the bookseller launched into a sales pitch for the store's e-reader. I'm not kidding. Instantly. I doubt he inhaled first.
I stopped him at And you can take all your books with you on vacation!, politely refused, and expected him to finish ringing me out because I said no. He didn't. He offered to send me and my purchases over to the kiosk guy, who would give me a personal demo of how they looked on the e-reader so I could see the enormity of the delight and convenience I was missing out on.
I repeated my no-thanks for a second time. Okay, maybe through my teeth, but still, nicely.
The bookseller was either hard of hearing or went temporarily deaf, because he began regaling me at length with how many hard-to-find titles he's personally acquired since buying his e-reader. I kept on my polite face while I silently marveled at how truly awful his taste in books was. Then he told me how silly it is to stick to buying paperbacks, which btw won't even be available in a few years, didn't I know that, doddering old person that I am? All right, he didn't call me a doddering old person, but it was in his beady little twenty-something eyes.
I could feel my own right eyelid starting to twitch (never a good sign), and my spleen eagerly suggested I open the torpedo tube doors and prepare to fire the warheads. But he was a kid, and I reluctantly put myself on Defcon 1 before (for the third time) I said no. I didn't add thank you that time. I was biting the inside of my cheek too hard.
The bookseller looked mystified for a moment, and then asked in good salesman fashion, "So what problem do you have with e-readers?" All eager to argue me out of whatever stupid reasons I have.
I'm not prejudiced against e-readers. Why would I be, I've been using e-books as promotional tools on the internet for the last ten years, and these devices expand my potential readership every day. They're interesting, convenient and fun, and provide tons of storage space. They've certainly contributed a lot to my sales, especially on my backlist titles. My sister, the hardcover snob? She owns a Kindle and during our last visit spent like thirty minutes telling me how much she loves it. Handled the right way, I think e-readers have the potential to bring about a global reading Renaissance. All the way around they're great things. Hooray for e-readers. Bravo. I mean that, sincerely.
But do I want one for myself? Absolutely not.
Even if e-readers eventually evolve into something I could manage to use with my physical limitations (hands + vision), as a writer I stare at a screen a minimum of eight hours a day. I don't want to look at one when I read. Also, I'm tired of gadgets. I have enough gadgets. I even own gadgets for my gadgets. I am gadgeted-out.
When I read, I want something that I don't have to put batteries in, or plow through electronic ads, or fiddle with buttons. I just want a damn book, all right? That's my personal preference, and while it may make me an unhip old stegosaurus out of step with the rest of the reading world, until paper and ink are outlawed frankly I think I'm entitled to it.
I considered telling the little smartass all this, as well as pointing out what can happen when a frequent patron standing at the register with wallet in hand and more than a hundred dollars in merchandise on the counter gets pissed off enough to make her right eyelid twitch uncontrollably.
But I've been on the other side of the register; I used to sell books for a living. That was in the stone age before e-readers, but I know all about the sales plans and quotas and the way they train you to work the floor and the customers. Sometimes managers push so hard they turn booksellers into salesmongers, so the kid's attitude probably wasn't even his fault. I could be kind, compassionate, and not jerk him across the counter by his tie and tell him what I thought of his handselling. More like e-pestering.
No, nice doddering old lady that I am, I made a point of glancing back at the six customers parked between the ropes behind idiot Wait Here sign (half of them looked pissed, too) and answered his question with one final suggestion: "Why don't we chat another time when you don't have so many folks waiting in line?"
He didn't like that, but finally finished ringing me out before he bagged my horrid paperbacks and shoved them across the counter at me. Oh, and he told me to have a nice day. In the same tone I'd tell someone to drop dead.
Customer service, she ain't what she used to be.
I will go back to that store, although I think I'll come in from the mall side where there is no e-reader kiosk. At the register I can pretend I only speak Inuit. As for the salesmonger, I still remember his name (poor kid, now he's immortalized in a blog post forever, too.) And on my next visit I believe I'll leave something for him that he will never get in a million years from his e-reader: a signed book.