Bookselling Channels


I’ve been thinking a lot about how and where I obtain books.

I use the word “obtain” on purpose.  About 40% of the books on my to-be-read shelf are given to me by editors, or they appear in the registration bag at conferences, or I pick them up for free at conferences.  (Note to anyone who loves to read romance:  You can easily “earn” back your registration fee for Romance Writers of America Nationals in free books — even though that conference costs nearly $500 to attend.)

Another 30% of the books on my shelf come from friends or family, either as gifts, or as recommended reads.  Some of those books are given “no strings attached” while others must be returned.

I purchase the remaining 30% of what I read.  If I had been writing this post ten years ago, I’d tell you that I ordered from Amazon very occasionally — because I had a gift card, or because I wanted a seasonal book out of season.  (I remember, in particular, a book of holiday quilting designs that I wanted in July, so that I had time to, um, make a quilt for the holidays.)  The vast majority of my purchases, though, were made in bookstores, most notably in two large Borders stores — one near my office and one near my house.

My, how things change in a decade.  Both of those Borders stores are, of course, closed.  (And I’m still in mourning.  And I don’t want to talk about it.  Pout.)  The Barnes & Noble stores near me carry very little new stock, particularly in genre (they’re big on remainders, and fairly robust on literature and children’s books and toys).  Most of the independents have closed, and the one large one that is still open carries even less genre than it used to.

And so, the vast majority of my book purchases are online.  In fact, a fair amount of my book purchases are electronic — I download the files to my e-reader, sparing myself the need to find more space on my over-crowded bookshelves.

Case in point:  When my now-husband and I planned our honeymoon, we went to one of our dear, departed Borders, and we spent an evening browsing books, each choosing five volumes.  After 1.5 hours, we met up in the cafe, shared dessert, and reviewed our selections.  Two of them were duplicates (see, we are well-suited for each other!), so we bought 8 books and carried them on our trip, sharing them back and forth.

When we planned a trip to the Baltics, last September, we also went to a bricks-and-mortar store.  We also selected five volumes each.  We also conferred in the coffee shop, selected a total of six, returned all ten books to the shelves, and headed home to buy them as e-books.  We essentially used the physical store as a catalog store, to purchase our goods online.  And yeah, we felt a little guilty.

Bricks-and-mortar and online aren’t the only models for bookselling; they’re just the most common.  My current release, a Harlequin romance called The Mogul’s Maybe Marriage, is enjoying substantial sales through a “book club”, a group of Harlequin subscribers who buy every book published by my imprint, every month, with the books delivered to their door (or to their electronic reading device.)

What about you?  Where do you obtain the books that you read?  All things being equal, where would you like to obtain them?


24 comments to Bookselling Channels

  • Mikaela

    It is interesting, for a long time I got my books from Sfbokhandeln, which specialize in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Then, I discovered online bookstores, especially Book depository, and ordered books from them. Then.. I discovered e-books. Now, I get most of my books as e-books, and only a few as paper books. In fact, I prefer e-books. For starters, they are much cheaper than paper books in Sweden. And they take up less place.

  • I buy practically everything as an e-book now, with no remorse. It’s a more efficient storytelling medium for the way my life works, so I embrace it.

  • Mindy, I haven’t (as John said) *embraced* e-books, simply because I havn’t decided which e-reader to buy. A year ago I’d have said, I want a hard copy book, and I still do, but the weight of books is more than I want to carry now! I’m jealous of people with 200 books in their pocket.

    Currently I buy from my indie store, which carries new and used books, and I will continue to support them. But an E-reader is in my future, and soon. I want something user-friendly, and will likely break down and get an older Kindle.

  • wookiee

    About half of what I read comes free from Amazon for reviewing. Then I’d say about 35% Kindle ebooks and 15% paper. I prefer to read on the Kindle, but if I’m traveling (particularly to someplace like the beach) I’ll usually take a paperback that I wouldn’t mind if it got damaged. Plus there’s often deals on paper copies or used books that I can’t pass up.
    I’d guess, now with Borders gone, about 90-95% of what I read comes from Amazon and most of the rest from Edward McKay (the local used book chain).

  • I work in a library, so I check out a lot of books that catch my attention. If I love them, I buy my own copies from Amazon (sometimes in paper version, and sometimes on my beloved Kindle) or Barnes and Noble in person. I also use Paperback Swap, which is an online book trading site that’s especially good for finding OOP books.

  • Mindy,
    I grew up in Canada, buying books at Coles at the local mall and then Chapters superstores. Here in CT, there isn’t an indie nearby, so I tend to shop at B&N. I’m famous for scanning the shelves and walking around with a book in hand, then putting the book back and selecting another. I do this several times, often grabbing a title I already carried around. Infrequently, I’ll go an entire visit to the store with a single book, usually when it’s one I’ve been wanting for a while. I buy titles from Amazon that B&N doesn’t carry, like the Penguin Classics version of The Three Musketeers, which should arrive any day. 🙂

    Unfortunately, I buy books twice as fast as I read them, so my TBR list grows even without donations or borrowing.


  • I don’t own an e-reader yet and don’t expect to for the foreseeable future. Not because I’m a luddite – I recognize the inherrent value of being able to carry around an entire library in such a compact form – but because extremely slow to part with what little money I have. Prices have come down a lot, but those things are still not cheap.

    So I get most of my books typically as gifts, in a physical form. When I buy books myself, they’re often through an online bookstore, but occassionally still through a bricks-and-mortar store. I enjoy browsing physical bookshelves, but online is often easier.

  • Razziecat

    I still love physical books, especially when they have beautiful covers, and there’s nothing like the new-book smell of a bookstore. But I don’t drive, and while I can reach a couple of malls by bus, it’s a long trip there & back. So now I buy most physical books online, mostly from Amazon and Powell’s, but also occasionally from secondhand stores & from a small indie seller in town. I have a Kindle and I’m slowly acquiring e-books that are out of print in paper. I also visit the library frequently, and when I find a book that I want to read over & over, I buy either a paper copy or an e-book.

  • I rarely have the money to buy many new books–durn the cost of food–and new tech, even less so. I’m using my birthday present from a couple years ago (laptop) to type this. I have a boat anchor (my desktop PC) that’s broken and just sitting around because I don’t have the money to get it fixed. An e-reader is pretty far down on my list of must have’s, at least until I can get myself published and have at least a little more money that isn’t already tied up in the budget. I buy when I can, get secondhand when I must, and use the library to test authors I’ve never read before. Alibris has been my friend for a while now (and they had access to the old Henry Treece books and the rest of the War of Powers series I’d been looking for forever :D).

    I honestly love having shelves of books. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who has a den and small library of books. I haven’t quite made it to either one yet, but I’m working on it. 😉

    And, as an aside, I dropped one of my paperbacks in the tub a while back, dried it out, and finished reading it. Put it back on the shelf too, though it’s a bit warped now. Still, warped and readable is far and away better than destroyed an out a hundred bucks plus the cost of e-books. 😉

  • I love my Kindle. Absolutely fell for it the moment I held it (and I had refused to get one for a long time, loving my paper books as I do). I still have some paper books, gifts mostly, and I enjoy them, but e-books are much preferable. I did find on my recent trip that while I loved my Kindle for the majority of a 5 hour flight, I needed a paper book for the half-hour we were stuck on the tarmac after they said we couldn’t use electronic devices. So, for things like travel, I’ll keep a paper book as a back up. Otherwise, it’s e-books all the way for me.

  • I buy books at cons, and also pick up a bunch through the giveaways at, say, World Fantasy Convention. The rest I buy, sometimes online, sometimes in bricks and mortars. I don’t have an e-reader yet, but, like Faith, expect that I will before long. I have read a few things on my iPod Touch, which is a little hard on these middle-aged eyes, but which also showed me that I could enjoy an e-reader under the right circumstances. I have tok admit that giving in to the e-book trend feels like a personal surrender, although for the life of me I don’t know why. I guess I just love my “real” books (those I’ve written as well as those I own) and am reluctant to start down the e-book path.

  • Mindy, like Faith I havenb’t quite chosern an e-reader to embrace. I *almost* broke down and bought a Kobo since Chapters/Indigo, the Canadian alternative to and our local brick-and-mortar, went with it. Now I hesitate because it was a Borders thing.

    But except for graphic novels, where my husband gets his fix at a comic shop, and supermarkets, where I can get my Harlequuins, we buy most of our books online; either through or, and only when we have enough for free shipping. The online sites offer way more selection than anywhere else. I also get Air Miles from both websites, which is a nice incentive.

    Oh, and conventions like ConCarolinas are great, too. Some of the books, like Edmund’s DREAMING CREEK, were not available in Canada without horrendous shipping costs. Plus I can get them signed right away!

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I feel like amazon is the easiest way to buy non-fiction, and I buy most of my books period from amazon, but I really prefer to buy fiction from a physical store. Unfortunately, the Barnes&Noble in town is terribly frustrating to buy from because they carry all the new releases fine, but if you find an author you like that way, good luck getting their older stuff. I feel like, ideally, physical stores would provide a way to browse a lot more stock than is sitting on their shelves, perhaps just as plate cards of the rest of an author’s titles shelved next to their physical books. The cards should then have bar codes for buying and downloading an ebook version or for ordering a paper version, so the store can still profit from providing this browse capability. I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of interesting material because of the limitations on the amazon recommendations software and am definitely missing out on a lot of older material, period.

  • marlenedotterer

    With no more room on bookshelves, I now buy ebooks almost exclusively. If a book isn’t available in eformat (Kindle, specifically), then I get it from the library. I also do that if the Kindle version costs as much as the print version.

    But I’ve never used the physical store as a browsing rack. I’ve bought from Amazon for a long time, and I always use their “look inside” feature. I read the product description, read a page or two… rarely, I’ll look at the reviews.

    However, one thing I’ve never tried to do, is to just “browse” through Amazon. I don’t know why. Partly, I think it’s because we’ve always subscribed to the Science Fiction Book Club. That catalog comes in the mail, and we’d spend an hour or so going through it and deciding what we wanted to buy. Often, we bought any books through the SFBC. We don’t anymore though, because of they don’t offer ebooks.

    So Amazon is just about our only source for book purchases. Despite the fact that I never browse on Amazon, I find plenty to read. I’m certain I will die with at least a hundred books on my To Be Read List, even if I live to be a hundred and fifty.

  • […] fiction authors talking about writing speculative fiction – what could be better!)  This month’s post is about where we buy books (and in what […]

  • Hey folks! Sorry to be so late in checking in – things have been a bit crazed on the writing-and-editing front in Klaskyville.

    I’m very intrigued to read the variety of answers people have posted here – the fact that some of our members have essentially abandoned all print books, some have no ereader at all, and some (like me!) straddle the line.

    I drafted this post a couple of days ago – but somehow, I was prescient. There’s a lovely article in today’s Washington Post about new independent bookstores, opening up to fill the vacuum left by the chains. It’s interesting reading – check it out, if you have the time:

    Oh, and Hepseba? Just the other day, I proposed your model to a friend… Great minds think alike!

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Yes, well, I’m pretty sure my thoughts were seeded by previous discussion on this site, perhaps even one of your previous posts, so you definitely get more great-mind credit. 😀

  • I have a 16′ wide, floor to ceiling bookcase that is full – mostly with classics, old novels, reference/research (histories, mythologies, odd ball stuff, etc.) books, and genre and non-genre fiction hardbacks in the frontroom. I also have a 90″ wide, 5 shelf bookcase for my genre paperbacks, writing books (and reference books I’m using) in my office. And then there are the books on various and sundry topics on anything remotely resembling a shelf throughout the rest of the house. And I still have boxes of books in the garage I haven’t found places for.
    I also have a Kindle (love it!). And the Kindle app on my Droid phone and laptop. Being buried in books, I now mostly buy e-books for my genre (stuff I used to buy in paperback) reading. I still keep an eye open for old, classic, and collectable (to me, at least) real books, and research/reference books just Have To Be physical.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    >We also conferred in the coffee shop, selected a total of six, returned all ten books to the shelves, and headed home to buy them as e-books. We essentially used the physical store as a catalog store, to purchase our goods online. And yeah, we felt a little guilty.

    I have been expecting this for years! I keep thinking that bookstores will eventually be catalogues with the cover and the first chapter to browse.

    Of course, this model works much better for B&N when the customer is purchasing for the Nook than for a bookstore that is not also selling the electronic version.

  • Tom G

    I have Kindle for PC (which is a free download on Amazon) and that’s how I’ve gotten the vast majority of my books this year. I don’t mind reading on the PC, but I really want to get a Kindle in the near future. Book prices are much lower, and storage space in the house is at a minimum. Though, there really is something about a physical book in your hand, or even on the shelf.

  • Mum.
    I stopped buying books a couple of years ago due to financial hardship (Oh, I’m a struggling author, how am I to buy all these books?). Not really all that hard, but still $25/book here in Australia is a bit rich when you go through them at one every week or so. But as luck would have it my mum visits from the eastern states a couple of times a year and she and I share the same taste in books. She’s retired and spends a lot of time reading so when she comes over she brings 5+ books with her! Hooray problem solved.

  • Unicorn

    There are ten bookshelves in my house and most of them are overflowing. Despite that, I still haven’t got my hands on a Kindle. I spend enough time staring at a computer screen to enjoy a real book, but I can imagine that ebooks are so much easier to get hold of.
    Most of my reading comes from the library, even though it’s very horrible when it comes to fantasy (only got the seventh Harry Potter book last year and doesn’t have a single Magical Words author in it! Gasp!) but when I do buy books, they come from the South African equivalent of Amazon, or very rarely from one of the two second-hand bookshops in town (none of which ever really stock fantasy).
    Thanks for the interesting post and resulting discussion, Mindy.

  • wookiee

    For everyone on the fence about buying a Kindle, I can’t recommend the Special Offers version enough. The ads are only in two places – the screen saver when it’s off, and one inch on the bottom of your book list page. Nothing appears in your texts at all.

    The best part is it can pay for itself if you buy other stuff from Amazon. In just two weeks after purchasing ours we’ve already made back about $80 of it.
    For a list of special offers that have come up so far, look here:

  • Up until this year it was bookstores for me. Any bookstore close by and back when I lived in Manhattan it was the glory that was Forbidden Planet, where you could walk in and see 50 Andre Norton books for sale.

    However, I was given a kindle for Christmas and other than a couple of physical book purchases to finish off a series everything else is e-book.

    I have the kindle software on my phone so I can read anytime I want, even when my kindle is at home. The devices all synch up and remember where I left off no matter what device I was last using to read. So that’s convenient.

    I’m not done buying physical books. There will be those that come along that I will just have to have (hopefully among them my own some day :-))

    I do notice that I purchase fewer books now that I purchase them as e-books. I don’t purchase till I’m ready to read it. I wasn’t expecting that.