I was waiting at Penn station for an NJ Transit train and walked around the block. There was a Borders there. I picked up a book about some cop killings that happened back in '69 and took it to the SBC cafe. I was able to take the book with me and read it while I ate my snack and didn't have to buy it.

Maybe we should be selling the 'activity' of reading, rather than the book?
HA! - I've always done the opposite - browsed/searched for books in Amazon's database and then run out to my local independent to buy it - (I'm big on immediate gratification).
City Lights isn't a great example for this theory—it doesn't owe its traffic to book sales.
Only some of the Harlequin books were free. Amazon sells an ASSLOAD of romance titles for Kindle. Romance readers are a peculiar breed -- it's not unusual for them to plow through a book a day, and two or three isn't uncommon. They're some insanely high percentage of total Kindle sales. Really, it's a perfect match of genre and format.
Look, book stores used to make most of their revenues off of books.

Now they're better off making it so every time someone visits they buy something, even if it's a used book, a postcard, a frog keychain (got one for Xmas), or a cup of joe or chocolate bar.

If your margins are down on hardbacks, make it up so you come out ahead on foot traffic. Scones, cute gerbil masks, whatever, so long as you stay open.
@2 I have a similar habit, although I am more likely to use Amazon's search to backstop that of the library system. I still make it to my favorite independent, but more often for gifts or to snag a pile of used.
Amazon and other net retailers have also trained shoppers to believe that the best price is always with them. While bookstore economics seem to be different, I've discovered the last few years that local stores or distributors for cameras and electronics generally match major net retailers. I just bought a Canon bought and shoot at Glazers for the same price B&H Photo was selling it for and only a $1 more than Amazon had it for. Then I bought a $3000+ camera and lens at Oppenheimer Camera here, for $100 less than the net guys. I didn't have to ask these local stores to match the online price, they already were. Can bookstores do this too? I don't know.

So my behaviour is the opposite with electronics and cameras. I do initial research online and then buy local.

I don't know why we still coddle net retailers with sales tax exemptions though.
Isn't it obvious? Borders in downtown took out most of the chairs as people just examine the books and then order from Amazon. (Admittedly homeless is part of the reason). I am a prolific reader with a limited budget and I like bestsellers. So I do Costco, Amazon and the coupons at Borders. But I also buy other books. If an independent would match Borders 30% off I would buy from them-- and probably buy 2 or 3 more books a month from them. I frankly feel badly that Elliott is investing the capital to move- as I think their business model is doomed. Geographic cure won't heal their situation-- new competitive pricing on best sellers and then add on sales as well as other innovations are sorely needed.
Um... does no one realize that publishers sell their books at different discounts depending on quantity purchased. Of course Amazon can sell books cheap - they're buying hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of books at a time. When I worked for a publisher, Amazon and B&N got 40% off on their purchases, whereas most of the college bookstores we sold to only got 20%, and small booksellers would get 10% and the random idiots who bought their books directly from us got no discount at all.
"I've discovered the last few years that local stores or distributors for cameras and electronics generally match major net retailers."

Many electronics manufacturers will cut off a retailer if the retailer doesn't charge (or at least advertise) a minimum sale price. I believe Canon does this. A few years ago, Apple successfully defended themselves in a lawsuit over the practice. This is why you will never see anyone put the iPhone on sale.
Damn, I thought the whole point of Amazon was that you don't have to find parking.
Eh, I use the library to browse for books I want to buy. Does that count?

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