Tuesday, October 12, 2010


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.


  1. Wow. That's all I've got for you. I really admire your restraint!

  2. Sorry you had a bad experience at what really sounds like a B&N. I've been pretty lucky in dodging the displays and accompanying salespeople.

    I'm torn on e-readers. I have an older Sony 505, and I like that I can put a lot books on it when I travel and I don't have to lug around physical books. However...I really LIKE physical books - the smell, the feel of them, the cover art (!!). What can I say, I'm a book nerd. And I hate DRM. So I still buy both physical books and e-books.

  3. Plus there is the smell of a book. The aroma of ink and paper that means that something was really worth the effort to publish. No e-book will have that weight on the senses. Also, a real book doesn't go on the fritz if it gets dropped, smushed, scratched or exposed to humidity/dust.

  4. A great post - especially for someone else who spends a lot of the day staring at a screen.

    As for e-readers. Well, they just don't smell like books...

  5. Love it!!!! My mother in law loves her for travel but she still checks out books from the library all the time. I like the thought of the immediacy of them (I think, I don't own one), no trip to the store to deal with annoying people like him. But I like holding books.

    In that same vein, I just finished Frostfire last night! Well done! Oh my, I had no idea until the end who Walker was. Seriously awesome! Can't wait to find out more about Samuel, cause I was stupid enough to read the teaser in the back for his book, Nightshine! I really should know better! Thanks again for picking my name!:)

  6. And you're going back?!

  7. I noticed the "default to ebook" problem at BN.com. Like you, I almost bought the ebook by mistake. No, no, no! If you offer both e and paper, you need to make clear to the buyer which one she's buying.

  8. You're a better woman than I. The whole thing would've sent me 'round the bend. Especially when he came off with the 'what's your problem with e-readers' thing. My answer would've been 'let me speak to your supervisor'. :steam:

  9. I love my e-reader, and I buy most of my fiction in that format these days.
    I bought my first one because my first publisher was electronic only, and I felt like a hypocrite if I didn't at least try.

    But not everybody takes to it, and why should they? It's choice that matters, not being forced into one thing or another.

    There are readers who definitely prefer to read in one format or another, and there are paper book fetishists, who are coming out of the woodwork now. Interesting fetish, one that I share a little, and it certainly makes a house look better. But not the old, creased, battered and let's face it, dirty paperbacks that used to adorn my shelves. My bookshelves look a lot prettier these days. I still love the feel of the good old stone tablet, myself. That will never deteriorate, will it?

    BTW, another way of coping, if you don't mind lying, is to say you already have one. Say you've got a Kindle in B and N. It might shut them up a bit.

  10. Ug. I worked for two big sports teams in our area, I've had fist fights in front of my register thanks to merchandise, and I've only once ever snapped at a customer without great aggravation (um, drunk lady KISSED ME!) People need to learn how to sell things better. I'm to the point where I go into a store and try to navigate my way around the sales people so I don't have to talk to them. And leaving him a signed book? Brilliant!!!!

  11. I was talking about e-readers with a friend of mine who got married last year. We were discussing the pros and cons and how we understood the convenience, but how we personally like having the book physically in our hands and feeling the pages turn. When the discussion came to a natural close, my friend added one last thing. He said, "Can you imagine teaching your child to read with one of those? I can't see myself sitting my kid on my knee and holding an e-reader in front of him or her to read to them." Now the idea of kids terrifies me in a way it doesn't seem to him, but I thought that was the best point either of us had made the entire discussion.

  12. I agree with you on customer "service" and the so-called "helpfulness" of so many sales folk. I frequently rant to my husband about how the teens in the electronics department assume that me leisurely wandering the aisles must be a sure sign of "techno-hopeless mommy in desparate need of assistance" when really it means "I have no kiddos attached to my legs and screaming in my ears and I'm enjoying my own thoughts while I browse the merchandise". They really need to learn what "no thanks" means :)

    On the flip side, I have actually had an author sign an e-book. No, I didn't hand over my e-reader and a sharpie (seen it done, cringed the whole time). My reader (a Sony) has a stylus and an annotation feature, so I had an author digitally sign the front page of her novella. Very cool :) I do think that stylus feature is missing from a lot of other gadgets. Digital is great, but hand-writing/drawing is an art that doesn't have to get left behind.

  13. Yipes. That's just incredible. Did he miss the part that HIS store was selling paper books too?

    I like my e-reader, I do. But I still buy stacks of paperbacks to glare at me from my TBR pile, and I like it that way.

    You are a wonder of restraint.

  14. Does he see the irony in the fact that if he succeeds in selling all of his customers e-readers, he will eventually find himself out of a job when all of the brick-and-mortar stores close shop?

    I have an e-reader which I love for certain things, but I'm still an avid book buyer. Nothing compares to a real book and I like seeing mine lined neatly on my shelves. Too, browsing and discovering hidden gems is next to impossible at an e-store.

    My pet peeve at b&m stores is the hard sell of their reward programs. I get that you can eventually save money, but somehow forking over $25 for a card doesn't come naturally to me. I do have one of those free Borders frequent buyer cards and I do get lots of great coupons via e-mail, but I hate that I have to go through the whole "no thank you" routine at the check out line every time I go in. Just give me my blasted books already!

  15. I 100% totally agree with you. Salesmen (and saleswomen, for that matter) can be pretty pushy these days with trying to get their products noticed and bought.

    I could go on and on about how e-books will never measure up to printed books, but I won't. xD

    Great anecdote, especially that last sentence. There is so much that actually printed books offer that e-books can't.

    Though I must point out that, needless to say, he clearly doesn't appreciate books well enough to deserve a lovely signed book from you. D;



  16. Anonymous4:07 PM

    OK...so I am excited about e-books and such. However, in my opinion they could never be as satisfying as real paper and print books. You helped me realize another reason for this: no signed copies! Thanks.

  17. I never thought I'd read electronically, and I would much rather read print, but my degenerative eye condition means I can't see most print, and definitely not eink. At least not without fifteen lamps to highlight the page.

    Reading on my backlit iPod has saved my life. If not for ebooks, I wouldn't be reading at all, so I will forever be grateful technology advanced to this point in my lifetime!

    But, OH, do I miss going into the store and buying piles of print books. Which is why I do it for Christmas and birthdays and just for fun gifts as often as I can!

  18. Pushy salespeople always make me want to get out of the store that much faster. You showed more patience than I would have.

    I have an e-reader, probably the one the little smartass was trying to sell you. It's nice to have but - if I had to choose between it and paper books, the e-reader would be gone.

    We know all the pros but there are cons too. Wanting to read but having to wait while it starts up. Forgetting to charge the battery. It's heavier than most mmp. It doesn't smell like a book. I love the smell of books, old and new.

    I really can't see print books going away anytime soon.

  19. I'm with you, Lynn! I have a few books on my EVO for when I travel. Tried and true ones I can take and not weigh my luggage down. But really, I'm just too tactile of a person to give up books. I like to pet the pages and ruffle the edges while I read, to stuff my nose in a new paperback and smell the ink.

    And how can you possible color the edges of the pages green to go with your overall coverart? After all, have you picked up a copy of Wicked? Black cover, green witch's face and GREEN pages around the edge? What a marketing dream. Can't get that in an eReader.

    Oh, and you deserve an award for your restraint.

  20. I actually do want an e-reader, but I also want books too, if that makes sense. I want to be able to enjoy both. I love books any way I can get them. I also hate when I get in line at a certain bookstore and getting the same lines.. great blog post...

  21. We have a Sony Reader so my husband can carry lots of reading material with him for travel. I appreciate this capability, and the ability to get my own books in final searchable form.

    However, I doubt an eBook bought today will be around for as many years as a newly-bought paper book. The twenty-somethings of today haven't seen what I, a child of the 60s, have seen. They haven't had to keep moving/storing their music from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to CD to AAC/MP3... They aren't trying to move family movies or memorabilia on film, VCR (let's not even talk about BetaMax), or other tape onto DVD. They haven't had to move or back up their important files from 8-inch-floppy to 5-inch-floppy to 3.5-inch-floppy to zip disk to hard disk (or move them from computer to computer, because hard disk life still bounces wildly between 1 - 5 years, and I've gone through a LOT of computers, laptops, PDAs, and phones).

    Can we really expect that eReader manufacturers will NEVER force a format change upon their customers? Not even for profit? Or that eBook format standards will NEVER change? (I'm a software engineer, and I know the answer to that one, now that I'm looking at HTML5 and CSS3). For that matter, will Amazon, B&N, or Sony always be around for us? No. So if I'm buying a book for the long haul, i.e., for my collection, I'm getting paper. The benefit is that I'll never have to worry about the format working or the backups.

    Sigh. Sorry that this grew into a rant. Must have something to do with having to rebuild my Acer netbook from backups ;-)

  22. What a great post! My kids tell me at least once a week what an unhip old stegosaurus I am.

  23. I love physical books. I love my iPad (which can read all formats and do a whole bunch of other things, thank you, even if it is on the heavy side compared to other e-readers).

    And I'm sure he's rated by his boss on the number of e-readers he can push, but, sadly, he doesn't seem to realize that when everyone goes to an e-reader, his employer won't need HIM anymore. Because when all the books are delivered electronically, there won't be any need for that expensive brick and mortar store. Maybe they'll have a coffee shop with a place to come and read your e-reader and maybe have some dynamic screens for displaying the latest bestsellers, but I doubt it.

    We always remind store employees of this when they try to steer us to the self-checkout. Oddly, I can't stand walking through a store getting a request to help me every time I walk into another zone (I get so tired of saying, "No, thank you" that I wish there was someplace else to shop), but I darn sure want a human being to check me out and collect my cash when I'm ready to leave.

  24. Wow, I think I'd tell him to bog off after several mins.

    Although, I guess I'd just try to smile. Actually, my reaction, hmmm, can't really think. Depends on my mood.

    I wouldn't judje him as harsh, although he really earned a kick.

  25. Totally agree!

    It always baffles me that I'm asked endless questions about joining some club, email subscription, discount program, etc. when all I really want to do is give them my money. Why is this so hard for managers to understand?

    I wrote Stop asking me stupid questions! which is in a similar vein.

  26. SO frustrating to be held hostage like that. No means no... sheesh.

    I have an eReader -- a Nook, in fact -- and I love it like it's a new child. I use it almost exclusively, though I admit I still collect autographed books (more to HAVE and not to actually READ).

    But just because I love my eReader doesn't mean everyone has to. The kid needs to learn the charm of a soft sell or find a new job.


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