Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Showrooming" and the Independent Bookseller’s Dilemma

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Today I'm proud to be hosting  bookseller Robin Agnew of the terrific independent bookstore, Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookshop, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aunt Agatha's is a charming shop, chock full of  great mysteries, hand-picked favorites for display, and a warm and knowledgeable staff eager to match readers with that absolutely perfect book. Alas, the new-ish customer practice of "showrooming" has caused this small business owner to take pause and have an existential conversation with her inner curmudgeon. Welcome, Robin!

noun, informal:  the practice of visiting a store 
or stores in order to examine a product before 
buying it online at a lower price.

ROBIN AGNEW: I often work in the store on Saturdays, usually our busiest day of the week, when our college town welcomes lots of out of town visitors and shoppers, especially in the summer when the weather is nice and it’s pleasant to walk around downtown.  

Often visitors to the store will snap some photos.  Some of them like the ambiance of our store which is, to put it mildly, packed to the rafters with books and book-ish smells. Some even take a photo in front of the store by our logo. I like that and find it charming.

More recently, however, I’ve found that many people use cameras for a different reason – to take a picture of a book they plan to then go online and buy for, I’m assuming, less money.  Now, I can certainly accept that people will go online and buy things.  I do it myself,  That’s anyone’s prerogative.

What I find difficult to accept is the fact that we have taken a great deal of trouble to populate our store with the widest possible variety of mystery and crime novels, displaying them thematically, labeling and describing our favorites, etc.  It’s often these books that are photographed. These aren’t books that could be found browsing on online - they are particular recommendations made by us with our particular sensibility.

I recently had a nice family – older parents, late 20s or early 30s daughter – who came in, browsed, and the parents picked up and bought a book.  Their daughter merely picked up books I had carefully selected to display and photographed them, all the while chatting pleasantly.

She was assuming I could certainly understand her need to save 4 or 5 dollars.  Being in a downtown, I see all kinds of people, from the genuinely destitute to the clearly wealthy. I’ve often given a discount or merely given books to people who obviously don’t have the money for something to read. I don’t even mind giving away a novel to an obvious drug addict – maybe that novel will give them a bit of solace, I hope so.

But why middle-class people feel entitled to go ahead and seek the “best deal,” the “biggest discount,” while at the same time demanding your service and attention I find difficult to fathom. I recently posted a whine about this on facebook and got a staggering number of responses, many from authors and booksellers. My dilemma: to put up a sign, or not to put up a sign?  Is it too curmudgeonly?  My husband thinks so.

I got answers ranging from charging a photography fee (appealing, but certainly difficult if not impossible to collect) to suggestions for signs saying “No photos,” “These books never run out of power,” “Buy local,” “Want to remind you that buying a book from us instead of online guarantees good karma” (this from a former bookseller, now a writer), “Photographs $5 payable in advance,” “Our books are shy.  That is why we wrap them in brown paper before leaving the establishment,”  to “No Drinking, Smoking, Electronic Purchasing, or Swearing.”

And from a couple booksellers I respect:  “Signs, probably not, comments specifically to the individual, yes…The challenge is to make your point politely.”   And from a longtime friend and colleague, “Independents should embrace being curmudgeonly – folks already think we are just because we work in bookstores.  Mostly, I think that the answer to this issue is simply to keep doing what we do, which is engaging customers one on one when they walk into our stores.”

I have created a sign that says “Your cell phone is not a shopping tool.”  And I know there are other reasons to photograph – to see if you already have the book, to add it to your list and come back to it later – but mostly this kind of showrooming is on the rise and while I haven’t yet put up my sign, it remains to be seen how far my embrace of codger-hood will go. I feel it coming on.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: When I saw Robin's original Facebook post, I tried to make her feel better by saying I used electronic media the other way around — basically, what I do is download hundreds and hundreds of free sample chapters, read them at odd times (on the subway, waiting at a doctor's office), mark down which one's I really like, then go find them at our local bookstore or the library. 

Lovely Reds and readers, what's your opinion of "showrooming"? Have you ever seen anyone do it at a bookstore? If you were a bookstore owner, how would you handle it?

Tell us in the comments!

Aunt Agatha’s

213 South Fourth Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Hours of Business
Monday - Thursday 11-7
Friday & Saturday 11-8
Sunday 12-5


  1. Oh, Aunt Agatha’s is on the top of my if-I-ever-get-anywhere-near-Michigan-I’m-going-there list.

    Showrooming is a new concept to me. We are miles and miles from any bookstore, so I don’t get to wander through bookshops as often as I’d like, but it’s not something I’ve seen folks doing around here.
    Somehow, it seems that many shoppers have become more brazen, less thoughtful, and not at all courteous; perhaps it’s a symptom of the “it’s all about me” syndrome that’s so prevalent these days. But if the picture-takers aren’t buying books anyway, I don’t think it would be too curmudgeonly to say something to the picture-taker. And I’m chuckling over “your cellphone is not a shopping tool”. . . .

  2. Wow! I wasn't familiar with the problem of showrooming. Really, how rude of people. I wish we had an independent bookseller in my town. I'd certainly appreciate it more than the showroomers. Aunt Agatha's looks like such a magical place for mystery lovers, and it's certainly on my fantasy bookshop road trip. I love the personal notes on the books, too. What a lovely touch and service for your patrons. In fact, I'm adding a couple of books to my TBR list from your pictures.

    I do think that those that showroom should be called on it. Perhaps you could begin with a sweet, charming voice and say, "Could you tell me why you're taking a picture of that particular book," and if the brazen person admits to showrooming, tell them that your bookshop, while being a place for book lovers to gather, is also a business, and you don't appreciate them treating it as a shopping tool to buy elsewhere.

  3. I've worked in five bookstores, and I keenly remember the owner of a popular independent sneaking an Amazon shipment into the store late at night, when Amazon was still new. The discount was simply better than Ingram's.

    It really bothered me, but it was also, sadly, understandable.

    As for this new term 'showrooming' (so many new words anymore!) and what to do about it, put up those signs. Come up with a couple of crafty phrases and blend them with your branding. Make this very intentional. Put them on t-shirts and bookmarks, and then contact the local paper and get some free advertising out of it.

    Independent bookstores are one of the last strongholds. They're worth the fight. I doubt the photo takers will suddenly repent and do a 180. But since they weren't intent on spending money anyway, why not educate them?

    Be bold, be unafraid and take it to the mattresses! You'll have to watch my favorite movie 'You've Got Mail' to know what I mean by that.

    Carla DeLauder

  4. You may think you're being curmudgeonly, Robin, but you're just protecting your business. I say go ahead with the signs, and with the direct contact. I doubt you have it in you to be mean to anyone, so flash 'em your smile and make your point. Maybe it never occurred to them they were essentially robbing you of a sale.

    It never occurred to me to showroom, I'm pleased to say, but I have heard of it.

  5. My love for Aunt Agatha's knows no bounds! Xxx
    And wow, people are ridiculous.
    I mean first of all--why do you even need to take a photo? Because it is easier than the onerous task of remembering a title or the impossible task of writing it down?
    Maybe just sidle up and ask if you can help them. "Are you looking to make a poster of that book cover?"
    Or! Take their photo! If they can take pictures, so can you.
    And maybe have a public posting of them all.
    Okay that's a terrible idea. But it's fun to think about.
    Let me think about this more...! Grr.

  6. Aww, nice comments. And I do see an age gap - folks who do this tend to be on the young side, which means they've grown up never paying for a song or an album, for example. It's an attitude now leaking over to books. And when young people do it it doesn't bother me as much, like it did with the woman I mentioned who was in her 30's and should have known better. I'm definitely leaning toward a sign!

  7. People are cheap, especially when they're on the Internet and there's no real person to interact with. But it staggers me that they do can do this when they're actually IN the store and chitchatting with the people they're planning to NOT buy from.

    A sign with a touch of humor? That would be my suggestion.

    Robin, you're so right about how it's related to not paying for a song or an album. And it all goes back to the Internet. It brings out our best and worst instincts.

  8. I love Hank's idea! How about if all of us authors sign up for shifts and keep watch? I wouldn't mind at all going up to someone and saying while smiling "surely you're not planning to do your research here and then buy on Amazon?"

    The message you suggested Robin may be too understated for a dunderhead to understand! We have a wonderful indie bookstore in our town and I always remind people how sad it would be if we lost them. The BUY LOCAL signs are everywhere, by the way...

  9. First, let me just say the Aunt Agatha's has long been on my bucket-list of places to visit when I travel in that area someday.

    I hate the practice of showrooming - and have unfortunately seen it in practice many times. That said, this is really not that different from writing the title down, which has been happening for years. It's just that this younger generation prefers techy.

    I'd like to think it's just a reminder of what they want to read, but I know that is not the case. And all I can say is that there are folks like me - and many of my friends - who rarely walk into a bookstore (independent or otherwise) and left without making a purchase. And I *always* make sure to visit local independents when I am traveling. I know this can't counter-act this rude behavior, but I hope that it is some small solace.

    As for the signs, I say go for it. Keep them light and humorous. Realistically, it won't make a difference to a vast majority of these people, but if it makes 10% of them stop to think before they do it, and hopefully encourages them to just buy the book, well, that is still something.

    Any fear that customers will think it rude and/or be offended is crazy-talk. Only those who would think of showrooming would be bothered and if they are, you don't really want them in the store anyway (it's not helping you in anyway).

  10. Sadly, the cell phone IS a shopping tool. Digital cameras have changed our lives. Some people take photos of every meal. ( I don't get that one.) I sometimes take photos of books, so that I can check my collection to see if I already have it.....or to add to my list of things to buy later. I don't, however, go to the local store to take photos, and then do my shopping online.

    I buy lots of books at full price from my local independent bookstore...and usually I am buying them because I'm in the store to hear an author. Host as many author appearances as you can. People who care enough to come will probably buy the book there, to get the author's signature. They might even pick up a couple of other books by the same author, or suggested books that you have strategically featured near the register or the presentation area.

    I would go with a sign, instead of direct confrontation. If you embarrass someone by shaming them in your store, that person is not likely to ever buy anything there, ever, and he might actually spread the bad vibes to others. Just let people know that if they are using your store as a showroom for Amazon, pretty soon, the showroom won't be there, anymore.

  11. Aunt Agatha's is a fantastic bookstore, if you haven't been there, go! It's one of my favorites. And I also fell in love with Ann Arbor. What makes Ann Arbor so special is all the independent shops. If you go into the wine store, they're knowledgeable about wine, if you visit the cheese counter of the gourmet shop, they know all about cheese. If you go to Aunt Agatha's they know about mysteries and thrillers (and not just what's out today, but the whole history of the genre). This is what makes a place special. I worry we're all going to live someday in a land of big box stores and nothing else if we're not careful... So, for what it's worth, make the signs!

  12. Any "negative" sign you post will only create a negative environment for ALL your customers. I don't shop anywhere that has big signs telling me not to steal, for example. We never returned to a bed and breakfast that had signs up telling us not to get food on their "expensive" bed quilts. (Buy bed quilts that you can wash for heavens sake--what if I cut myself shaving and get a spot on your quilt. Sheesh!) If I were to take a picture of your book it's because I don't buy ANY books but I do get them all out of the library. In the "old" days I would write those book titles down on a piece of paper. Or I'd remember the titles. My advice to you is to understand that even if those people didn't take the pictures they STILL wouldn't be buying a book at your store. But, if you make it a nice place for them to visit and they buy their books at a discount somewhere else they'll recommend that book and/or your store to their friends. They'll say they get lots of nice recommendations from your store. They may even buy a book while they're there or some other gift item you have in your store. Karma has a way of biting you in the butt and negative signs will do that. Why not have a sign asking people to give a shout out to your store if they take pictures of your books; that's a way of using what's already going on to promote your business! Negative = OUT OF BUSINESS.

  13. Gosh, I am feeling guilty for all of the photos I took this winter after discovering Titcomb Bookstore in Sandwich, MA. I'd never stopped in before and was like a little pig in you-know-what I was so delighted with the books, the charm, the invitation to just browse until closing time. I bought books, old (a first edition Stephen King "On Writing"), and several new, I couldn't possibly buy all of the books I wanted! So I create a photo, to add to my "To Buy and Read" file. Where I end up buying or borrowing the book isn't the object, it that growing issue with memory.

    I buy from independent bookstores all of the time and never would want to offend or hurt one in any way. If I lived near Aunt Agatha's, you can be sure I'd be there often and while I'm sure I'd be buying, I probably would be clicking so I could remember titles.

    I also photograph books I want to recommend to others or to authors to let them know how nicely a particular bookstore has displayed their work.

    So, while I appreciate the offense taken at those ignorant enough to "showroom," I think there are enough good reasons and news to share among book lovers to outweigh bans or signs,

  14. It's not always showrooming. I know.

    I've taken photos of books in bookstores and museum shops, knowing today was not the day to buy the book, but wanting to remember the title &c. because otherwise it would be lost in the mist and I would never remember that the book had piqued my interest.

    Surely I'm not the only one.

  15. Another thought occurred to me: my husband and I often take pictures of books by authors we know to post on FB to show them we've seen their book. Now we're supposed to feel bad because we snapped a photo of a book in your shop? You've made a lot of assumptions here about your customers that as a potential customer, I find shockingly wrong. And if you commented, however nicely you think you're being when you're obviously really pissed at people for taking pictures in your store, I would never go back. And I would tell LOTS of people. #AvidReaderAndRecommenderOfBooks!

  16. Keep doing what you're doing. Don't change a thing. Let's face it, everyone loves feeling like they saved money, regardless of income. Consider adding a donation box as people enter (clear, locked, theft proof, clearly marked re: where the $ goes). Donate all monies collected to reading programs in your area. The very people 'complimenting' on your ability, will be the first to open their wallets with a few dollars.

  17. How about a sign, with one side listing all the benefits of buying at a local bookstore, and on the other side, the "benefits" of "taking a photo of a bookcover and buying the book elsewhere."

    Yes, indeed, there are other reasons someone might take a photo. But a funny sign handles all of it.

  18. Michele, you found a first edition of On Writing? WOW!

  19. I hope you won't go with "no photos," Robin. I love it when people send me "sightings" of my books. They text them to me or post them on Facebook saying something like "Look what I saw at Aunt Agatha's!" And I wonder if the less savvy (like me) would wonder why no photographs were allowed. I agree that negative signs tend to create a sour atmosphere, which would be a shame.

    What struck me as I read this is that the person isn't really saving much money. Unless the showroomer is buying ten hardcovers, the savings will probably be less than $5 anyway. I have to wonder if paying to be a special member of the big discount store online has something to do with this. Does it create a bond to that store? Do people feel they must use the free shipping or they're wasting their money?

    I was thinking along the same lines as Hank. Humor goes a long way. Maybe you could come up with a sign that compares the experience of shopping in an indie to the experience of shopping in an online discount store. You can take the book with you and read tonight, no waiting for delivery. You can browse and find books you didn't know about. You can ask a real person questions about the books!

    I hate that this is happening. If there's anything authors can do to help, I hope you'll let us know.

  20. Sadly, this practice is nothing new, nor is it specific to bookstores. I once worked at a mom-and-pop camera shop (back in the days of film). Often customers came in and asked me to show them a particular camera. I'd spend considerable time demonstrating the how-tos of f-stops and shutter speeds and types of film. All too frequently, after I gave them this free photography lesson, they'd happily thank me and tell me they were now going to go buy this WalMart. For much less money.

    The truly unfortunate result is the camera shop, which offered personalized attention and help after the sale, too, soon went out of business.

    Readers, support your local bookseller! It's more important than you know.

  21. Visiting your bookstore was one of the high points of a trip to Ann Arbor many years ago (the other was the stadium!) I never take pictures in bookstores, and I always go to my local bookstore for books that I want before going to Amazon as a last resort. I have never seen anyone take a picture in a bookstore! I have seen people post pictures of books on Facebook when they spot a new release. Perhaps you could place a positive spin on this issue if you offered people a 5% discount when they took a picture of themselves with the book and immediately posted it to Facebook while in the store. ( A "Look at my latest read from Aunt Agatha's" moment.)

  22. Karen, I think posting on facebook is great free publicity for the author. I'm all about supporting authors, where would I be without them? What I didn't mention about the family I described was that while the parents bought books - though they looked up the first Michael Connelly title on their phone rather than ask me, a case where I am actually faster than the internet - when they bought a book the daughter was incredulous, saying to her mother "You're buying a BOOK?" I am certain she went and bought a couple books I mentioned online. Now that said I am not confrontational - I'm a book geek, for heaven's sake - so being actually rude to someone to their face would not be happening. But it's not possible for me to control my negative thoughts.

  23. Karlene, I love your idea! I think I may try it this weekend.

  24. How rude! Sometimes I take pictures in a store but that's because I'm texting them to my daughter for her approval for a gift for the grandkids and I usually hang around for a response.

    I've never been to your store and I'd love to someday so I don't know what it's like, but I would offer one observation: it's hard to screw someone you know and like.

    I wouldn't advocate fluttering by the customer's elbow, as they do in Office Depot and I avoid them because of that, but greeting everyone, offering your name and help when they arrive and finding a way of building a community with them. You know, like Cheers. Learn the customers' names, make friends with them.

    I have a sign somewhere around my desk that says "Make every client feel loved." It's all about good-will.

  25. I am a publisher and as such we MUST be on line and at the largest book seller in the world...However,
    Nothing replaces the well run indie bookstore. People with a love for books, who know characters and genres and love to pick out a new winner is something on line shopping will never match. Aunt Agatha's is one of the gems that you discover and wander thru several times a year and there is always something special that leaps out at you or Jamie and Robin will suggest to you. It is the same at other book stores that are part of the community. We take trips several times a year to Detroit's largest bookstore, which is an indie and go to other cities to experience the "book store" mystic of that city. Even large stores like B&N are oasis in deserts that have wide ranges of books for everyone. But there is not significant saving on line over going to a book store. Yes, a few dollars. Those dollars pay for the feeling, the adventure, the treasure hunt and the savoring that is buying a book from a book store. It is worth every penny.

  26. I think humor and education are positive ways to begin to address this issue. And I like the idea of a piece in the local news--tv, radio, podcasts, the newspaper (and its online edition)--spread the word about the tightrope you walk as an independent business AND all the advantages you bring to your customers and your community. Signage in the store, too--that educates people--will your computer smile at you or share your enthusiasm for that new author you just discovered?

  27. Hi Robin! This is a tough one. I suppose this was a book you wouldn't have sold anyway, as the young person probably wouldn't have come into the store without the older couple. I think talking one on one is the only way. These people probably don't even realize that every sale keeps your head above water. Being gracious and friendly might even lure her back.
    However I can understand how you were gritting your teeth. It's the same for all small businesses... Coming into a craft store, asking for instructions for a project, then leaving without a purchase. Going into a travel agent, getting them to plan an ininerary, then letting them know you are using miles.
    Taking photos of a cover... Isn't that a copyright infringement? It might be easier to have a sign saying PLEASE NO CELL PHONE USE IN THE STORE
    And looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks!

  28. I usually reverse-showroom in bookstores, since my goal's always to walk out with something (or multiple somethings). I'll pop onto that... place that sells books online... and look at my list to see what I've got saved there so I can feed my instant gratification needs and buy it in person. If I'm impulse buying I might check out reader reviews, see if its part of a series and I should start with an earlier book... that's the tough part about our smartphone-dependent reality now. For every person show-rooming there's plenty more who are researching the book or even trying to remember a name or title. I like the funny sign idea: "why buy it later when you can be home reading this very book with a cup of tea ten minutes from now?" or something like that.

    There's something to be said for the fact that showroomers probably won't change, though. When I first started out I used to lose my mind when I found pirated copies of my books online, but I've learned that some behaviors are just unchangeable--someone who willing to grab a pirated copy of a book is unlikely to ever pay a regular price for any book, and trying to fight them on it won't nudge them toward buying books legally. I wonder if (and suspect that) confronting showroomers just means they'll never come back at all (whether that's just a matter of good-riddance or pushing away possible impulse buys is hard to determine, though, and is probably very much a case by case, customer by customer question... it's a tough, unenviable call to make).

  29. My favorite bookstore sign... Unaccompanied children will be fed coffee and given a puppy!

    1. Love this sign. Our vet has one but substitutes kitten for dog

  30. Rhys, you put it well. It IS a dilemma, isn't it?

    Michele, I love that you have a first edition of ON WRITING -- such a great book. I refer back to it all the time for inspiration.

  31. Annette is right - showrooming is not a new concept nor is it limited to books. People go into all kinds of stores to find the thing they want to buy, try it out, then go online to buy it. It sucks, but I also kind of understand it. I used to do it for Apple products before there was an Apple store conveniently nearby. I wanted to touch the thing before I spent money because hey, it's a lot of money and what if I hated using it?

    I agree with Karen. Putting up a sign, even a humorous one, implies a certain negativity. Negativity is always bad for business. There are other reasons they could be taking pictures. I'm one of those who, when I see a friend's book on the shelf (especially an out of town author friend) snaps a picture and posts to Twitter or FB. It's free publicity for the author and a friendly "hey, I found your book, how cool" message.

    Also - and here's where I may get in trouble, especially as an author - I simply don't buy as many physical books as I used to because I don't have bookshelf space to store them. Most are reserved for friends - like Hank - where I can get them signed and personalized.

    Another thought - perhaps these younger folks were not local. That's something else I wouldn't want to do. Buy a lot of physical books and have to cart them home. Especially if I have to fly. Yikes!

    I think the best thing to do when you see this happening is engage the person. "Oh, that book is fabulous! And if you like that sort of writing, you'll probably love these other ones." It's a more positive interaction and who knows - you might even make a sale.

  32. I might be in the minority here in agreeing with Karen's comments. I am turned off by big signs or small signs telling me how to behave in a store because it makes a lot of assumptions about me before you've even talked to me. It's like souvenir shops on vacation with those big signs with a camera saying "SMILE: You're being filmed" or "You break it you buy it." We who enter bookstores are already rare enough.

    But I do understand the issue because my sister owned a small retail store in Michigan and had some of the same issues (in a town far smaller than Ann Arbor). The rude comments about pricing and alternative (cheaper) outlets to purchase are galling, for sure. But you can't prevent them. It's the price of doing business.

    As one who shops at independents frequently, and also buys online frequently, I can honestly say I don't think a sign is the best route. It's the "preaching to the choir" phenomenon: those who will be customers already get it, and those showrooming will just stop coming in or simply walk out. The offending parties aren't likely to convert into customers, let alone loyal customers, if showrooming is their true intent. For me personally, a person prone to purchase books in a retail store, a sign would be off-putting.

    As a Michigander, I will definitely patronize Aunt Agatha's the next time I'm in Ann Arbor and I look forward to doing so! I hope I can meet Robin and pick her brain. And I guarantee that I'll be walking out with an armload (or two) of books. I might also take a photo! :)

  33. LOVE Karlene's idea! It both boosts publicity for the author and store, and offers an opportunity to engage with the customer over the books. ("Oh, you're a fan of Krista Davis's? Be sure to tag her when you post that on FB -- I've met her, she's really sweet, and she'll be thrilled!") So even if that wasn't the customer's intent, you've now planted the suggestion -- and of course, opened the door for the kind of conversations you love to have, recommending BOOKS!

    I suspect some customers don't have any idea of the impact of their practices -- lots of great suggestions here to retrain them, gently and humorously!

  34. Hi Robin,
    This really struck me: "But why middle-class people feel entitled to go ahead and seek the “best deal,” the “biggest discount,” while at the same time demanding your service and attention I find difficult to fathom." I was an indie bookseller for 6 years at the Elliott Bay Book Company in the years before online shopping, and even then, there was that group of people who would browse in our store and then head for Waldenbooks or wherever they could get a discount - these were usually wealthy people in town for sporting events on the weekends. If only we could tell these people how much our entire society is losing from this kind of mentality. I am so glad you are fighting the good fight and I hope one day to make it across the country to visit your beautiful shop.

  35. Hi Robin,

    Wow! "showrooming" is new to me. I would think the photographers would ask you for permission before taking photos! I am the opposite. I would bring a photo of a book that I want to the bookstore and ask the bookseller if they had this book. They are always great about offering to order a copy for me if they do not have the book.

    One thing that occurred to me: what if someone bought a book at your bookstore and took a photo of the book to show the photo on the author's Facebok page? I asked because this week an author had her book published and she asked people to take photo of the book and the bookstore where they bought the book. It was launched on Tuesday, July 12th.

    Another thing that occurred to me is if your bookstore has a cat, perhaps the person wanted to take a photo of your cat?

    If I visit Ann Arbor, I would love to visit your bookstore. And I promise NOT to take pictures :-)

    Again, thank you for sharing your perspective.


  36. I'm guilty of photographing book covers. If I come across something new or that I think might make a good read I snap a pic and then add it to my list later. It's the best way to remember that title. It doesn't mean I'm going shopping for it right away online. I'm just adding it to a list of books I might pick up one day. I may buy it on my next visit, I may buy it a year later. I may buy it from that bookstore, I may buy it elsewhere. But if a store told me I couldn't snap a pic of the book, I'd walk out and not go back to that store, plain and simple. Instead of trying to run off potential customers, maybe you should try something more proactive. Create your own online or in-store registry or wishlist service for customers. That way you build a database of potential customers, complete with their likes, and you can use that as a way to reach out to them with news about similar books and so on.

  37. An idea to consider - perhaps you can offer a discount to customers who buy 10 books. An indie bookstore gave us a card for each time we buy a book. Once it is full, we get a discount. Another indie bookstore offers 20 percent off for next month when we buy books from the store.

    Also newsletters would help in informing customers about special sale days to celebrate a holiday for example.

  38. It's not really "taking photos" that's the dilemma-- it's what they MIGHT be used for! I take photos in bookstores all the time for myself and my pals.
    And we all have millions of happy people posing in bookstores. Yay cell phones . I love Karlene's idea!
    It's just using the store as a catalog that's frustrating --and that's not necessarily phone-centric.

  39. I think people just like to visualize things. That's why bookstores are so cool. You get to browse and pick up and touch the pages and flip through the book or read a sample chapter. The whole digital method of buying and reading books just doesn't have that same feel to it. It's cold and impersonal. Taking a photo of a book cover to remember for later is a way to make a visual connection with that book. If you're going to tell people they can't take a picture, you might as well put up signs that say "don't touch" too.

  40. It's obvious that you love books and support authors, Robin, and I'm sure your store is lovely. I still think you're making a lot of assumptions about your customers, based on what you commented about the one family of shoppers. I, for example, almost never buy books unless they're reference books, so my family also would have said, "You're buying a book!" to me if I had purchased fiction in any shop. It doesn't mean I usually buy them elsewhere; I get them from the library because I don't want to store them and most importantly I rarely finish reading a book without a deadline. I feel your pain regarding having a small business and feeling like you're "giving something away for nothing" but again, I think reframing it in your head will only improve your business. It's better to focus on what you do have to offer your customers than on preventing showrooming. Remember, most shoppers are used to shopping in box book stores where you can't get helpful recommendations, so they'll be checking their phone because if they can even find someone to help them, the sales person often can't answer their questions. It's nice you have this supportive forum of authors to vent to; I'm giving you a customer perspective which I hope helps your business flourish and thrive.

  41. I would not allow anyone to photograph anything. You can use safety,copyright issues damage from flash ,,,,,or simply that there is no real reason to photograph a book or display. Photography has nothing to do with reading and
    as a store owner you do not want specifics of your surroundings photographed for people with ill intent, like
    robbery to have your layout in hand. We had this issue in an art gallery. We would ask why they were taking
    a picture and depending on the answer we requested that no photos be taken. In your case I think a simple sign
    that says "No photographs allowed without permission from the author or shop owner" should do it.

  42. Karen, I've been selling books for almost 25 years and have a pretty good feel for what my customers or visitors are up to, though you're right, it's dangerous to make assumptions. I've gotten into trouble at times assuming from looking at a person what they like to read so now I always ask, and am no longer surprised when the lady with kittens on her sweatshirt asks for a book about Ted Bundy. However from talking with other retailers I know this is a common practice, everything from shoes to cameras. When my daughter took dance we had an hour long appointment to get her toe shoes fitted. The woman told me some people came in, had the fitting, and left to buy the shoes online. !!! I *never* mind when someone mentions they are getting their books from the library. I try and be courteous and helpful to anyone who comes in. Some people do unfortunately regard us as a "book museum", and we're local color for sure, but a purchase keeps our doors open, simple as that.

  43. I couldn't resist coming back here and reading all of these wonderful comments.

    I'd love a scooped neck t-shirt with Aunt Agatha's logo and a catchy phrase. It wouldn't come across as lecturing customers; it'd be fun and funky and indie.

    An indie bookstore standing up for a grassroots, indie cause.

    Carla DeLauder

  44. If you google "Shop Local" there are some great signs that stay positive -- just reminding people the benefits of shopping local (jobs, taxes, keeping bookstores in town, etc). I think a positive reminder about the benefits of shopping local would be better received then a sign about no photos. No photos -- well they could just write down the title. But "Reasons to shop local!" may make them think.

  45. What a great discussion. As always, the comments are as interesting as the blog post itself.

    Recently I've been thinking about all the different kinds of jobs we've lost, more because of technological advances than because of "corporations not wanting to pay US taxes". Jobs like photo processors, camera repair, typewriters sales and repair, internet cafes, fax and answering services, mailing services, and on and on.

    With the rise of the "A" company offering instant delivery via their Prime service, so many brick and mortar stores are struggling with the showrooming issue, and not just bookstores. Sure, it's a convenience, but I think it hurts everyone but that company, in the long run.

  46. This is rather like the people who think nothing of downloading pirated books and music. They seem to think it isn't hurting anyone.
    The people at Isabella catalog have posted a note on the c/d page about this.

  47. I don't like the practice - nor the conversion of yet another noun into a verb - but I know it's done. I will note that this is a method for those who only buy ebooks to remember the ones they want, since physical bookstores don't sell ebooks. (I wonder if there is a way?)

    I guess if I felt I had to do anything, I'd just say "I hope that, wherever you buy the book, you enjoy it." If that's too subtle for them, they're not going to be reached, or shamed, by anything else.

  48. This is terrible! Do people stay up late thinking of what I suspect they proudly call "angles"? Small booksellers are small businesses. Selling books is, yes indeedy, their life blood. Sure, take a photo to see if you have the book in your collection already--or even better, if you like it, buy it, then if you have it, donate it to someone else. If you liked it enough to buy it twice, you'll be doing someone a true favor by gifting it to to them. What you described is downright rude. Unfortunately, I have nothing constructive to say about how to combat the activity. Signs would be ignored, and maybe enticement for folks to figure out how to work around the restriction. I think if I caught anyone in the act, I would say something along the lines of "Are you picturing it on your bookshelves at home? It's a great addition." They know they're caught and it might slow them down. Sigh. No easy answers.

  49. Robin,
    Not sure how this will come up when I post, so this is Marilyn at the Moonstone Mystery Bookstore.
    I haven't been selling books quite as long as you, but pretty close. I know what you mean about having a feel for what a customer is "up to." And I am reluctant to confront them both because of my introverted personality and because it is possible that I am wrong about the motivation. Many are checking lists on their phones to see what the next book in a series is, for example. I am reluctant to use signs because they seem unwelcoming and can offend; I have felt offended in shops with such signs even though I had no intention of photographing or using the shop as a showroom.
    I don't have frequent photographers, but do have many who spot a book they like and then check the price on-line. So I have struggled with the same issue: what, if anything to do about it. I have found that there is frequently an opportunity for education. Many (or most) people are truly ignorant of the harm "showrooming" does; they think small businesses are funded by some magical source other than sales. If the opportunity seems right, I will say, "If you make all your purchases at Amazon, I will probably not be here for your browsing needs for very long." The usual response is puzzlement. There seems to be a general assumption that businesses are wealthy, and that what a customer does is harmless, whether it's using the bookseller's knowledge to facilitate on-line buying or discarding an unwanted book cracked open on the floor. When I explain (to those who seem open to discussion) that if everyone used us as a browsing tool to purchase elsewhere, we would have to close, they often admit that the idea never crossed their mind. I once asked the owner of a small paint store what would happen if his customers got his advice on how to treat and seal a problem deck and then purchased the products elsewhere. Only then did he see the parallel to what he was doing in my shop. Even other business owners can't see beyond their own needs! I had some success too, with some "ladies who lunch" in town monthly who would browse, never buy, and talk about Amazon as they did so. After the third visit, I found the right moment to explain things -- now they lunch, browse, and buy. They want the shop to stay here. This technique isn't going to solve the whole problem, but every little bit helps. And frequently I grit my teeth; some people will never get it, even as they bemoan the loss of the unique toy shops. hardware stores, etc. etc. etc.

  50. I would strongly suggest positive signage over negative. At the bookstore I work in we have signs saying things like "Shop Local: By buying a book from us you are supporting an independent business, creating jobs, keeping dollars in your local economy, appreciating our expertise, etc." Customers notice the signs and feel good about supporting a local institution, as opposed to feeling scolded or bullied into it. I have the expensive habit of buying books at practically every store I visit, and I'll sometimes take a picture of a book for a variety of reasons, though never because I'm planning to buy it on amazon later. It would be a major turnoff and might even cost the store my business if they chastised me the moment I pulled out my phone to snap a shot.


  51. What a great blog today--this is fascinating! And so instructive...

  52. For my part - I'm a school librarian - I try to teach the students at my school about the need to support our creatives: writers, illustrators, performers, as well as our local businesses. I'm in a small parochial school, so I don't have a lot of impact, but I have to try ... Unfortunately, I live in a town with NO indie bookstore, just one chain bookstore. However, I practice local buying with my local comics shops, which are indie bookstores in a way.

  53. In our town of Concord, MA, the Concord Bookshop has a sign that says "See it here, Buy it here, Keep us here." I think it's effective.
    Independent bookstores are precious. I buy my share on Amazon - but also buy quite a bit from the bookshop, especially children's books. I also encourage my friends to buy my book at an independent bookstore. When's the last time Amazon hosted a reading or book-talk?

  54. People are so crass. I would never do this in any shop. I try to go to indie stores as often as possible. Bookstores are the last bastion of customer service. Put up signs, make t-shirts, offer a pen and paper for them to write down titles if they're unsure if they already own it, take their pictures and put them on a wall of shame. Real customers won't be offended, and you'd be teaching a good lesson in local economics!

  55. I do the opposite all the time by the way--ie check a book on Amazon to make sure I have the title and author right and what formats it comes in and then go buy it at a bookstore--so it does go both ways,

  56. Strike a deal with Amazon, Apple, etc. Encourage customers to take a photo of the QR code on the back of a book and have it instantly downloaded to whatever device the customer wants. Have Amazon or Apple pay you a commission. (Their phone knows where they are.) A win-win?

    (I blogged about this back in 2011 here:

  57. I did not know there was a room for it. It's a rare person who reads a sign. I wouldn't waste your time. I buy books everywhere
    , online, in stores, and go to the library. I take pictures, mostly because I'm obsessed with reading series in order so I want to check if it is the first in a series. Sometimes I do go online, but most often I check the library. That's my confession.

  58. This blog is quite an education. I've never heard of show rooming, and I'm glad to say I haven't done it. I borrow from libraries, buy on line, and buy from my local indie bookstore. I know if I don't support them, they'll close, and i've been doing business with them since they opened, over thirty years ago. I want them to stay in business.

    As for the idea of a sign, I like the suggestion of See it here, buy it here, keep us here (I think that was Marian from Concord), or something similar. If someone is offended, my question is always why? Why are people so touchy when this is an issue of keeping open bookstores that matter to us all?

    Sometimes I hope to see a sign that points out if you spend $5 on coffee, you can afford $8 for a paperback that will last a lot longer than a cup of coffee (and be better for you).