Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ms. Manners Does Books

Dearest Reader,

The other day, I, Ms. Manners, walked into my favorite boutique, Mint Julep. I saw the most striking dresses from L.A. Made. I said hi to the super nice salesgirl, the one that helped me pick out earrings for my friend's wedding. She showed me some different colors and necklines.

I tried on the one I liked best. Not to toot my own horn, but I looked fantastic. I hung the dress up and walked out of the fitting room. "How'd it work out?" the salesgirl asked. "It looks great on me, and it's super well-made!" I replied. She took the dress out of her hands and made her way over to the cash register. "Great choice! That'll be $129.25 with tax."

"Oh, I'm not going to get it here." She looked at me, confused. "I'm going to order it online. I can get it for at least $20 cheaper on Thanks for your help! See you later!" What a nice girl! What a nice store! I thought, then I was off to Starbucks.

As a bookseller, I have been on the other end of this very same interaction many times, with a couple differences. First, instead helping someone find a dress, I've been asked to write down the title of the book (don't think I don't know what you're up to, mister). Next, the stakes are far lower -- hardbacks are generally only $7-9 cheaper on Amazon, and that's only if you buy more than one and qualify for free shipping.

Far be it from me to want to talk about brick and mortar stores vs. giant faceless warehouses (I agree with the independents argument, obvs.) but years of having people tell me about their decision to shop at the A-word has lead me to believe that they don't know any better.

I came to this realization on Saturday, when a young couple, standing there at the front of the store, yelled loudly about hardbacks being much cheaper online. They seemed perfectly nice -- they didn't have any prison tattoos or racist slogans on their shirts. And they seemed perfectly smart -- they were speaking in grammatically correct sentences and they even had glasses! They made me wonder why a perfectly smart, nice couple would be so rude and horrible.

Again -- they just don't know any better. Nobody ever told them that booksellers have feelings. Nobody ever told them that bookstores were businesses subject to the vagaries of the market like tax, rent and inflation. I'm telling them now: I am a person, the store owners are people, and our livelihoods depend on your not doing exactly what you're talking about doing, right in front of me.

Would you tell a homeless person you were giving money to the beggar down the street because they asked for thirty five, not fifty cents? Would you tell a neighbor kid you were getting your lemonade one block over because of his ten cent markup? Of course not. Well, quit bragging to me that you're downloading a $10 e-book on your $400 e-reader.

I kind of take it as a compliment that our store seems to be a library to some people. But not that much. Cut it out! I mean, please cut it out!

Your friend,

Ms. Book Manners

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