As I was drying my hair this morning I was thinking about the way in which you might buy books as it's something that's increasingly becoming a moral conundrum for me. I think the greatest potential loss to our high street, were they to cease to exist, would be bookshops. Several years ago when Amazon first became a feature in our lives, I bought the majority of my books from them unthinkingly, delighted by the fantastic prices. However, in more recent years I've started to increasingly feel uncomfortable about this: I want to support local bookshops now, rather than wishing I had once they've all been forced into closure. The moral dilemma comes over how best to do this.
I've gradually worked out a sort of system in my head that feels like an acceptable compromise for the most part. My children buy the vast majority of their books from Waterstones as I think the experience of picking books by hand; reading the blurb on the back; seeing the print within the books; feeling the texture of the pages, is all an essential part of childhood and building a life-long love of reading and books that can't be replicated by any of the wonders that technology has to offer or by having the books arrive anonymously on your doorstep. Additionally, it's only since having children that I've appreciated that book sellers are just as amazing at pointing me to a perfect book or providing an on-the-spot review as Amazon can be. Both in our local branch and all the others we've visited around the country, when I've said to a book seller: we're looking for this type of book, for this type of reading ability and it must include insert-random-current-obsession, they amaze me every time by leading us to a perfect offering and describing the intricacies of the characters or writing style with a knowledge and passion which makes me believe they must read every book.
Because children's books require more internal browsing than adults', if I'm shopping alone for them I'll also tend to make a bee-line for Waterstones and once I've used them as a research resource it doesn't feel right not to buy from them, so I'll buy paperbacks and picture books from the shop, but if I've spotted a particularly amazing looking hardback that's over £20 that I'd love to buy for them then I'll guiltily make a note of the title, as those are the times when it feels too much to shoulder the price discrepancy between the high-street and Amazon, which can be as much as £15 difference.
Many of my own books I buy from Amazon - simply because it feels quick and easy and my local branch of Waterstones didn't used to stock a great variety of specialist sewing books (although that's increasingly not the case as sewing has surged in popularity). I frequently buy cookbooks in the shop because I like to browse through them before I buy, which brings me to why I was thinking on this as I dried my hair this morning.
I'd mentioned the Primrose Cupcakes cookbook in my last post and after reading some of your feedback I decided that I'd love to buy a copy. I went to the Waterstones website where it was reduced from £14.99 to £9.49 with free postage and rang to reserve a copy at my local branch. However, when I double-checked the price I realised that Waterstones online undercut their own shops, meaning that to buy the book in the shop would mean paying full price. Having spoken to a real, live, very helpful book seller by that point, who'd already gone to check the shelf for me, I decided on this occasion the moral obligation was to buy the book from the shop and lose the £5.49...but it made me wonder at what point your own cut-off may be? I wondered if you'd agree with this or whether I'm being over-empathetic to the bookseller's plight. What lengths do you go to to support your own high-street and where do draw the line? Does it bear any relation to income? For me, despite our change in circumstances with my husband setting up his own business over the last year, I don't feel I can abandon the high street booksellers; I feel I should simply buy less books so that I can continue to support them in the ways that I've described above.
Equally, even though I want them to continue, I'm also aware that a big chain like Waterstones isn't symbolic of all that is good and right with booksellers and that their sales practises often put publishers and authors under pressure, however, they are still the only option on my own high street, which is devoid of independent sellers. I wish that we had a local version of South-east London's Tales on Moon Lane or London's Daunt Books.
What do you think? I'd love to hear how you shop? Whether you think we do have a moral obligation to subsidise the high street in order to retain it or if you have a favourite book shop and what makes it special. Or whether Amazon has its own magical appeal for you, as it does to me to a certain extent, in the sheer vastness of its stock.