The Joy of Browsing Books

I have never gotten over the joy of browsing books, in physical bookstores. To this day, at least once a week, I visit either of my local Borders or either of my local Barnes & Noble (there aren’t any other physical bookstores left), to see what’s new and to catalog them for listing on the various New Books pages of Locus Online. For over a decade now, my policy for listing books on those pages has followed the policy of Locus Magazine — I only list books which I have physically seen copies of. Either I purchase them (almost always from Amazon), or am sent them for review, or I see copies of them on bookstore shelves (the majority of what gets listed).

That has become increasingly difficult. For several years now, B and B&N have become stingy about stocking books. It’s become difficult to spot copies of all new titles even from the major publishers — Tor, Ace, Baen — since, apparently, those bookstores no longer stock even single copies of every new title from those publishers. So my New Books pages are increasingly occupied by small press and even self-published volumes, as long as they send me copies [my standing offer], but not always the significant books from the major publishers… (I should clarify that I do not ask the major publishers for review copies, as Locus Magazine does, since of course Locus Online does not post independent book reviews.)

Things change. Amazon has cut off its California affiliates, including Locus Online, in a dispute over collecting sales tax, which removes a secondary motive for my posting as many newly published books as possible each month. With Borders’ passing, the difficulty of spotting all significant new books for posting is about to increase, since no one chain or individual store can be counted on to stock or display everything worth noting.

I enjoy my weekly strolls through physical stores; I have ever since I was a student at UCLA, and went exploring through Westwood, to College Bookstore and Westwood Books and several others — as well as A Change of Hobbit, at first in the village above a laundromat and later further down Westwood Boulevard, before it moved to Santa Monica. (All of them gone now.) As always, you see things browsing in physical bookstores that you would never think to search for on or Barnes and Noble or any other website.

I am thinking now that it may be time for a policy change. (SF folk are supposed to *welcome* and accommodate change.) Perhaps my policy for listing books on the site — which will continue despite affiliation or lack thereof with or any other site — could become more virtual. That is, not rely on physical confirmation of published copies. If, say, a title is available on Amazon and/or B&N, couldn’t I safely consider it published and list it on Locus Online? In a way that might correct the sampling flaw that has long existed with my current postings — they’re dependent on what I happen to see, mostly, on my weekly bookstore visits, and often do not include significant titles that are available via online sites even if not stocked in physical bookstores. There would be extra effort involved on my part, perhaps, to track Locus’ forthcoming books listings, to check which titles are available from online sites, and as long as they are indicated as being in stock — well, that would be the e-equivalent of spotting physical copies in stores.

I’ve always intended the Locus Online listings to be announcements of books that are newly available, and do not list books until they are available for sale — I’m always perturbed by reviews of books that are published before the books themselves are for sale. That’s still my intention, and I will adjust with the times, as need be.

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