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A bookstore says: Don't be an iPhone-y [video]

January 17, 2012 |  3:31 pm

Late in 2011, an online-only retailer launched a holiday promotion offering discounts to people who shopped in brick-and-mortar stores and used their smartphones to scan prices and instead buy online. This ruffled the feathers of some who found the practice predatory, particularly fans and supporters of independent bookstores. It didn't matter that the promotion itself didn't apply to books -- the fear that it might, someday, caused a hubbub. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo even penned an op-ed against it in the N.Y. Times.

Apparently, booksellers at Harvard Bookstore (not connected to the university) were compelled to pick up a movie camera and make the sitcom-y vignette above.

While the online retailer's promotion brought attention to the issue, it's not at all new. For quite some time, bookstore staffers have been observing customers coming in, browsing the shelves, asking for help, then departing to buy the book they sought online. Now they can even do it while standing right there in the store. It's almost always cheaper online.

The staffer, his expertise, the building's rent and lights, the cost of getting the books into the store itself -- that's why the bookstore price is higher than the online price. Imagine if you went to an online retailer's site and typed in "big head, cover" -- would you ever find the book these customers want?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

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