How to Buy Books

June 20th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins
Quarry's Climax

A few months from now, Quarry’s Climax will appear. How the demise of the TV show will impact the book series remains to be seen. A graphic novel is coming, for sure, from Hard Case Crime Comics – Quarry’s War (in four issues, then collected). I have discussed a novel called Quarry in the Cross Hairs (or possible Quarry on Target) with my editor at Hard Case, but don’t have a contract yet.

I would like to keep going, and I hope the higher profile given Quarry by the TV series will keep us alive. But it’s a small miracle – maybe not so small – that after all these years, I was able to produce more novels about the character than I did on the first go-round back in the mid-‘70s.

The book business, from the author’s end, is a weird and troubled one, and unless you are an airport author, not terribly secure. But then the book business from the retailer’s end is just as bad – maybe worse.

Barb and I have always made shopping a big part of our recreation, particularly when we go off on a day trip to the Chicago suburbs or Des Moines. I now realize – looking back on the book-, record- and video stores I have frequented – that we experienced a kind of Golden Age of shopping. It says something that my favorite shop of all time was a laser disc outlet. I would spend about three hours there.

Yesterday (Father’s Day), we celebrated my day and Barb’s birthday with a Des Moines trip – actually, we mostly go to Clive. There’s a fine Half-Price Books on offer – the place where all my enthusiasms have gone to die – and a big, well-stocked Barnes & Noble. I shop at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Oak Brook and Cedar Rapids, as well, and another Barnes & Noble in a different part of Des Moines.

Picking a few things out in the DVD and CD area of the store, taking advantage of a 40% off sale, I noticed no one was at the register – no one around to ask me if I needed help, which I never do (not in a bookstore, anyway). I had noted the same thing at both the Cedar Rapids and Davenport stores over the past month or so. A sales person came back to see how things were going, and I asked about the lack of personnel in this department, apparently chain-wide.

“I used to work with fifteen others,” she said. “Now I’m one of five.”

And it’s a big store.

Those of us who love books need to support bookstores. That sounds obvious, and there’s no question that Barnes & Noble helped drive many indie bookstores out, even pushing Border’s off a corporate cliff. But they are what we browsers have left. I also trade at BAM! (Books-a-Million), who took over the space of a much-missed Border’s in Davenport, and have filled the gap well.

The decline of retail, obviously, is one half of the story, the other half being the rise of Amazon and other on-line ordering options. I am not anti-Amazon. One of my publishers is Amazon’s in-house suspense line, Thomas & Mercer, and all of my books at various publishers have benefitted from the success of my T & M books – none of which are easily found in any brick-and-mortar outlets…as if not selling Amazon-published books will “show them.” As we say in the comics business, “Sigh.”

What can a consumer of books and magazines and DVDs and Blu-rays and CDs do about the apparent slow death of bookstores?

I don’t suggest never ordering from Amazon. I order there a lot, particularly Blu-rays, mostly because Best Buy (where I used to buy my movies) has cut back so far on what they carry. With Amazon and other on-line services, I can pre-order discs and often get guaranteed lowest prices.

The nastiest thing Amazon does, where books and so on are concerned, is give prominence to secondary sellers – who offer used or even new copies at somewhat lower prices than even buying from Amazon itself. Book publishers send out a ton of review copies, and a lot of those freebies wind up as copies available from secondary sellers. When you use that option to buy, you are denying both author and publisher any income.

What do I suggest?

Well, I can share my personal policies, as a consumer of books and more. When I see a book in Barnes & Noble, or any bookstore, I didn’t know existed, that is where I buy it. I don’t look it up on Amazon to see how much cheaper it is. And when I do buy a book (or any media-type item) from Amazon, I buy it from them, not a secondary seller – I want the author and the publisher to benefit, so that more books can happen.

I also buy magazines from B & N and BAM!, unless the title has become hard to find, in which case I subscribe. But I enjoy the little thrill of seeing the new issues of my favorite mags, just as I have since childhood. If the editors/publishers of your favorite magazine request that you subscribe, because it will help them more than newsstand sales, by all means do so.

Just last week I received the final issue of one of my favorites, Video Watchdog, in the mail – a long, glorious run from Tim and Donna Lucas. Bless them both. Such deaths are small things but they add up to a publishing apocalypse.

Keep ‘em flyin’ – keep buying.

* * *

My pal Bill Crider, at his indispensable blog, has revisited a book of mine from the misty past of the ‘80s.


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3 Responses to “How to Buy Books”

  1. Robert says:

    Back in the 90’s our local Barnes and Noble was named the number one singles meeting place. Every Friday night it would be packed. One really weird thing, it was also a place for escort girls to meet their dates. You would see these young, hot girls in revealing clothes with these guy 15 or 20 years older than them. Most of the time these guys were “international”. The Barnes and Noble is still there but it’s kind of a boring place now. Due to poor health I rarely go there.

  2. Thomas Zappe says:

    I understand “young & hot”, but the “international” references passes me by.

  3. Sean Kelly says:

    When I order your books, I always contact Inkwood Books in Tampa. I’m currently drafting them an email to get Executive Orders and a couple other books for my daughter. Otherwise I mostly order from Powell’s. Amazon is only for things I absolutely cannot find elsewhere such as Tony Isabella’s new book which is being published through Amazon. Even here in Japan, I’ll get books with the accompanying markup from Kinokuniya and Yurindo because I prefer to shop in a real book store. Maybe one day, I’ll even be able to read in Japanese and can get something more advanced than Neko-kun.