Do All Bookstores Serve the Same Purpose?

Recently a friend and I visited a used bookstore on the same day that we went to a Barnes & Noble. Had we had more time that day, I probably would have had us go to at least two or three other bookstores that were nearby as well. But the stark difference between the small, eclectic, homey used bookstore and the big, bright, flashy Barnes & Noble had me thinking about the differences between bookstores, and how in my mind at least, I attribute different functions to different book selling venues. I’ve decided to go through a few of the common places I (and many others) purchase books, and try to figure out what it is about each place that I value.

Read Beauty And The Beast GIF by Disney

Barnes & Noble:

I decided to start with Barnes & Noble, because it’s one of the book stores that I use most often. In fact, when I was in high school, most school vacations usually involved a trip with my friends to the nearest Barnes & Noble where we’d sit and browse and read for hours. Even now, I frequent Barnes & Noble at least once a month (and I rarely leave empty handed).

Some of the things that I love about Barnes & Noble is the how many of them there are and how they’re a place dedicated to books and bookish things. I especially love how I can find a store all over the US. There’s something nice about seeing familiar layout and displays when you’re in an otherwise unfamiliar place. Not only that, but they tend to carry 99% of the books I’m interested in. I’ll get to why I adore indie book stores in a later section, but usually those have a smaller space and therefore carry less books. That’s not as true when it comes to Barnes & Noble. I can read the first chapter or two of a book I’m considering buying, admire all the pretty covers on display, and leave the store feeling happy and content. To me Barnes & Noble is a wonderful option for buying books. It’s commercial enough to have lots of stores all over the US, but focused on readers enough to take our likes and dislikes into account.

Barnes & Noble Closes over 400 Stores due to COVID-19

Bookshop.org:

I’m highlighting Bookshop.org next for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s my second most used book purchasing platform, and secondly because as you may already know, having loved the site and what it stands for so much, we became Bookshop.org affiliates.

I tend to think of Bookshop as the online indie bookseller. When I don’t have a coupon code from Barnes & Noble or some other reason to use a different site or store, my go to has now become Bookshop.org. I love that I get to support indie stores and while the books are not quite as discounted as Amazon, I like that I don’t have to pay full price. Honestly, if they had free shipping, I’d use Bookshop.org pretty much exclusively, so long as they had the book I was looking for.

But that’s the wonderful thing. Sometimes I’m looking for a particular kind of book, but I don’t know what exactly that is, yet Bookshop still has me covered! They have constantly changing featured book lists curated by other readers that tend to have a mix of popular and less popular books that fit within a particular theme. I’ve actually given quite a few books I’d never heard of a chance after seeing them mentioned on a list or two, and I’d recommend browsing lists on the Bookshop.org homepage or based on a specific genre’s page to find some titles you might not otherwise hear of!

Amazon:

I know it seems strange that I’m mentioning Amazon as a book selling source, when plenty of people have written blog posts and articles documenting the harm that Amazon is causing the publishing industry. While I have greatly reduced my book buying from Amazon, there are quite a few things that still make me think of Amazon as a big contender in terms of buying books.

For one, you have the price. It’s hard to find a cheaper price for books than on Amazon. And while that low price is part of what hurts publishers in the long run, not everyone has the ability to fork out $10-$28 per book, making Amazon a cheap option to buy books. On top of that, of course, you get the books quickly, and even get them on release day if you pre-order them.

Then we have the fact that they publish many indie books, or at the very least distribute indie published books. This means that there are some titles that you actually may not find for sale on any other site, and if you wish to support an indie author, you may have to use Amazon.

Lastly, they are huge in terms of e-books. Now there are some apps around that you can read on, but in terms of a physical e-reader, as far as I know , your options are limited to a Kindle or a Nook. And beyond that, the Kindle app is widely used. This is the one place where I personally haven’t been able to cut ties with Amazon. I still used my Kindle app to read e-books, and honestly, don’t see myself stopping any time soon.

amazon kindle GIF

Book Depository:

This is technically a subsidiary of Amazon, but I think of it as a separate entity, regardless of the fact that my purchases profit the same person. The reason that Book Depository is unique in my mind is because of their shipping policies. Mainly how they have free shipping worldwide. And they take that claim pretty seriously. While not every country is on their free shipping list, the vast majority are. Whenever most people run international bookish giveaways they’ll usually purchase their book through Book Depository for this very reason.

Not only that, but Book Depository carries various international editions. Don’t like the US cove? Find a different option from the UK publisher on Book Depository! Be honest, you’ve done this at least once before. Not only that, but certain times books are only published in certain areas, or get released earlier in a specific country. To get your hand on those books, my guess is you’ll use Book Depository.

So in summary, when I think of Book Depository, I think of books I can’t get in the US, or books I can’t send from the US. Basically this site forces me to acknowledge that the US isn’t the only country in the world that publishes and sells books.

World map All countries Vintage Poster Wall Decor image 1

Indie Bookstores:

Now we’ve come to one of my favorite options when it comes to book buying. Indie bookstores are each distinct and have such creative and varying looks and feels to them. In fact, one of my favorite things to do whenever I go someplace new is to check out the indie bookstores in the area. Each one that I’ve visited had its own charm and little touches that made it stand out. For some it was the layout of the store, either how bright and airy it was, or how the owners made use of a compact, narrow space. Then there are the displays, the knick knacks, the book selection itself. While Barnes & Noble has cornered the market on steady uniformity, indie bookstores are where bookish creativity gets to shine. There are so many indies that I’ve visited and immediately felt at home in. There are many that I’ve visited and want to go back to. And there are so many others that I hope to travel to. When I visit an indie book store, I get to feel the love and the care that goes into curating a space that is as welcoming as it can possibly be to book lovers of all kinds!

Click here for a link to this list of Indie book stores by state!

Used Bookstores:

This next category may be a subset of indie bookstores, but I’ve decided to talk about it separately, since there are definitely elements that are specific to used bookstores. I actually don’t tend to visit that many book stores that are specific to used books. My trip to one with my friend last month was one of the few times that I’ve been in one. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there are no used bookstores near my home. Additionally, while I can appreciate used books and the history they come with, I personally prefer new books. Therefore, when I initially think of a bookstore, it will be one that sells new books, even if they contain some used titles as well at times. However, there is something magical about visiting used bookstores, as you never know what you’ll find on the shelves! Plus, every used book store I’ve walked into has had a homey warmth and a musty, duty smell of books. The ambience of used book stores and the treasure hunting one can do when visiting is what makes these particular stores stand out to me.

Book Shelves by David Madison

Genre or Theme Specific Bookstores:

This is probably the sort of bookstore I’ve frequented the least, but will that keep me from having what to say? Absolutely not! There are several indie book stores out there that have decided to specialize in specific themes or genres. Whether the store recognized that romance is the best genre and created an entire store to celebrate them, or even the sci-fi fantasy stores that incorporate aspects of TV and movie adaptations into their décor to match the vibe of another world, these stores are the ones that try to give you the most immersive experience possible. These are the stores that have detailed recommendations by trope, that have merch celebrating your favorite genre, and that are truly a treat to visit. I think these are also the rarest kinds of bookstores out there because of the amount of time an effort it takes to create this sort of environment, combined with the fact that there’s a smaller subset of potential customers when a store gets so specific. However, my hope is that we get to see more stores like these flourish and multiply. It’s the closest thing to a theme park we readers will ever get!

And there you have my thoughts on various kinds of bookstores! I probably could have gone on and on, using specific stores that I’ve visited or purchased from as examples, but I thought that this general overview was long enough! This was also a post that was pretty specific to the US and its bookstores, but who knows! Maybe one day I’ll have travelled enough to do a international edition of this post!

Which book store do you use the most? What category of book store did I forget to mention? What’s your favorite book store that you’ve visited? Which book store would you love to visit?

20 thoughts on “Do All Bookstores Serve the Same Purpose?

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that each kind of bookstore has its place in the world. To me, B&N is almost therapeutic, if that makes sense. When you’re excited to read a new book, and there it is on display, and it’s so new… it gets me every time. Amazon is my go-to for ebooks, a side effect or renting lots of e-textbooks on Amazon maybe?

    Also, not really a book store but LIBRARIES. Libraries feel like home, the ambience is just right, and it’s all free. Sometimes there’s a wait for new releases, but I almost always have some older book that I haven’t gotten to yet on hold, filling my time and my shelf so I never have to encounter the bleak possibility of a day with nothing to read 🙂

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    1. Oh, I totally agree with you about B&N being therapeutic! Whenever I’m having a bad day my initial thought is to take a drive to just go and browse and be in a familiar, comforting environment. And it usually works pretty well!

      Amazon is my go-to for e-books as well, but I actually don’t really get my textbooks (e-book or not) from Amazon most of the time. I just use their Kindle app, so whenever I browse for new books, I inevitably end up using Amazon.

      Yessss! Libraries are the greatest! I think Chana did a post about why libraries are awesome a few years back, but it might be time for another post discussing how wonderful they are! For me I use libraries to read my “maybe” books, to try to keep me from being disappointed with any books that I purchased. But when I used to browse there and pick up random books, I’d many times find hidden gems that were just waiting for me on the shelves! Maybe it’s time to try that method out again!

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    1. Thanks! The great thing about Barnes & Noble is that they’re pretty much everywhere, so if you ever visit the US, no matter which state you end up in, you should be able to find one nearby! Meanwhile I’d love to visit a Waterstones if I ever visit the UK. I hear so much about their exclusive editions that I’ve become curious about the store itself!

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  2. This is such an interesting post, I love it! Since I’m in France and read mostly in English, I don’t buy my books at bookstores as much as online. I do have a small selection of English books in some bookshops, but it’s not as wide or as amazing as it can be in a Barnes & Noble or a Waterstones in England. Oh, I always go straight to these whenever I get lucky enough to travel ahah 😀

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, I realized that this post was very US-centric, and tried to acknowledge that a bit. It definitely makes sense that you use more online resources versus in person stores as an international reader, but I’m glad that you still have some options available to you! And getting to see beautiful new bookstores when you travel is the absolute best! Plus, if you buy a book during your travels, no matter where you end up reading it, that book will always be tied to that new place you travelled to!

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    1. Ooooh! That’s a really great point! I think that in NYC it’s a bit different, since I’ve gone to book/author events at both indies and B&N, but now that I think about it, the events at indies always had something extra special about them in terms of how everything was structured!

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