Misconceptions About Bookstores

People can come into bookstores with some pretty odd notions. Most of the time they’re confusing the bookstore for a library. Other times they just think they know better than the booksellers. But the truth is that the customer is far from right (and whoever coined that phrase clearly never worked in a bookstore — or in any sort of retail job for that matter). Here you’ll find some of the most common misconceptions about bookstores, and I’m here to tell you why they’re wrong.

1. Chairs encourage purchases

I can’t tell you how often people like to inform me that if we just had a few comfy chairs, people would buy more books. I’m not sure what their basis for this information is, but it’s wrong. In fact, it does the opposite. Yes, there are customers that take a seat sit in order to review a book or two before deciding what to actually buy, but the truth of the matter is that chairs encourage reading. Am I against reading? Of course not. But when people simply sit down and read books and never buy them, that’s different. Using a bookstore like a library is, in a word, rude. Bookstores are places of business where authors hope to sell their books and where booksellers recommend titles for people to purchase. Ultimately everyone with a stake in a bookstore is there to make a living. To eat and pay rent. By sitting down, reading, and never making a purchase, you’re taking away the ability for that book to be sold. If you want to sit and read, go to an actual library or stay home.

Also, every bookstore, large or small, that has ever had comfy chairs will also have stories about them. And they’re not good. You’re not likely to ever see a bookseller sitting in one of them. There’s a reason for that. If those chairs could talk, they’d be in therapy, man. Just sayin’.

2. Electrical outlets also encourage purchases

This is wishful thinking by people who have dying phones/laptops/tablets and who happen to be in an older bookstore that isn’t outfitted for 2017. Once again, for some reason customers who say this equate being able to remain plugged in (and using the store’s electricity and wifi) and working on their electronic device to the buying of books. And, once again, they would be very wrong. People don’t want electrical outlets so they can buy more books. They want outlets so they can keep doing whatever it is they’re doing on their devices. Checking email. Doing business projects. School papers. Things that have essentially no bearing on books or the buying of books. Just because a customer is in a store longer doesn’t mean they are going to buy something — especially if they’re not browsing the stacks and are instead are glued to their phone. Maybe they’ll buy a coffee or a snack if the bookstore has that available to them.

Suggesting a store get more outlets is a rather useless endeavor as well. It won’t endear the booksellers to you (because they’re probably already heard it multiple times before), and it’s expensive. Bookstore exist for bookselling — not for you to recharge your phone.

3. You have to be quiet

In a library, quiet is desired because people are reading, working, or studying. All of these things demand silence in order for people to focus. However, a bookstore is not a library (as we’ve discussed) and therefore you don’t have to be quiet. That doesn’t mean you can go around yammering loudly on your phone — that’s just rude no matter where you are. Bookstores are like any other place of business. You can talk at a normal level. Booksellers aren’t going to shush you if you’re reading a humorous book with friends and laughing about it. Kids are going to shriek, babies are going to cry, and life in general is going to happen. If someone is being excessively loud, you can trust that a bookseller will tell them, but otherwise it’s like any other location. So if you’re at a bookstore for peace and quiet, you may be better off making your purchase and going home instead.

4. Every book ever published is in stock. Always.

I’m not sure what makes people think a book will always be in the store. Perhaps they don’t realize how many hundreds of books are published every year — which has now compounded due to the ease of self-publishing. Bookstores have a finite amount of space, which means they simply cannot physically have every book out there, as described in a previous article. If you want to know if the store has the book, save yourself time and gas by calling them before going out there. They can check for you and will often be able to put it aside so you don’t have to hunt for it when you arrive. And keep the following in mind:

  • Do not assume because a bookstore’s website has the book listed, it will be in the store.
  • Do not assume because you found the title associated with the bookstore on Google it will be in the store.
  • Do not assume that because you found the book on Google it will be in the bookstore.

5. Books are always returnable because someone else will definitely buy it

Did you know that I can read a book in a single day? Yes. There are a lot of people that can read books that fast. There are even more people that can read a book in a couple of weeks. Years ago, Barnes & Noble had a return policy of 30 days (with the receipt). But because of abuse to that system, the term was shortened. 14 days, receipt required. And I still actually have people say, “What if I finish reading it before then? Can I return it?”

DO NOT TELL US THAT. Not only is the answer a resounding NO, it’s also astonishingly rude to the store and even more so to the author of the book. You’re basically saying you want to read their work for free. Have I mentioned bookstores are not a library?

Likewise, just because you bought the book doesn’t mean someone else will. And just because it’s a book doesn’t mean you can take it to any place that sells books and return it (used bookstores are a different matter). No matter what, you should always check with the store’s return policy. If you didn’t buy it there, chances are they won’t want it. And why should they? You never gave that store any money in the first place. If you’re not willing to do business with them, why should they do business with you?

7. Textbooks

In a store that sells regular books, that’s pretty much all you need to say, and the bookseller will instantly know what you’re talking about.

Every year students across the nation need to get textbooks for classes. The problem is, they don’t always have an actual college bookstore to buy them from. So they turn to the next bookstore in the area and are then surprised to find the book they want isn’t carried in the store. Why not? It’s a book, isn’t it? And bookstores sell books, right? Yes, but not these.

Textbooks are books that are very specialized in a specific field of study. They’re often very expensive, printed in varied quantities, have a decent chance at being classified as non-returnable, and tend to get replaced with a new edition every year by the publisher. Because of all these factors, they don’t exactly sell to customers the way The Hobbit does on a year-round basis. Professors also don’t tell bookstores about what’s on their syllabi, and sometimes they even want students to get books that are out of print. So Average Joe bookstores tend to steer clear of the textbook world.

Not by a college bookstore? Your best bet is to go online. Barnes & Noble.com sells and rents them (just don’t bring them back to the bookstore), or you can head to places like Half.com or Abebooks.com for a potentially cheaper option.

8. Booksellers are not research aids

Have I mentioned that bookstores are not libraries? A bookseller is more than happy to try and help you find a book you can’t remember (to the woman I helped for 30 minutes a few weeks ago, the dystopian book you wanted was The Gender Game by Bella Forrest. I finally found it the next day). They aren’t there to open up Google and give you directions to the nearest Italian restaurant. They cannot spend hours with you scanning marine books to see if one of them has a chapter about the blue-ringed octopus. They do not have phone numbers or addresses for publishers or magazine titles for you to contact.

Don’t get me wrong — a lot of booksellers will go out of their way to help a customer with something beyond books. However, you shouldn’t go into a bookstore expecting help on things not-related to books or things that you would normally get help with at a library. Libraries are specifically built for communities in order to help people do a number of things from finding jobs to afterschool programs to providing intense research materials. Bookstores sell books. Occasionally they have events like storytimes or game playing, but the ultimate goal of these events is to get customers into the store so hopefully they buy something.

When in doubt regarding bookstores, just remember: a bookstore is a place of business. When you walk in, the people there hope you leave with a purchase. You’re always free to ask questions, but hopefully this post has already answered a few of them for you.


  • nuyangwriter June 1, 2017 at 11:21 am

    As a former Borders employee, bookstores are also not nurseries/daycares! I remember parents just letting their kids loose in the children’s section and we would have to clean up their messes. It’s not a place where you take your kids for a few hours to “play,” then leave without buying anything.

    • Nicole Taft June 1, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      OH MY GOSH I FORGOT ABOUT THAT. Yep. So much yep. Little ones to pre-teens they like to dump off so they can entertain themselves while mom and dad go and do whatever. Oy. At night we used to have to ask them to leave because they would just screw around in packs and never buy jack.

  • Lane Robins June 1, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    There’s a whole other layer of horror about people’s behavior with magazines sold in bookstores. I can not tell you how many times I saw people rip out inserts (either to keep or because they were impeding them as they read the whole damn thing in the store) or used unsold magazines as places to stow their no longer wanted already chewed gum, or god help us, the times we had to collect magazines from the public restrooms. And that’s without the whole I’m looking for a magazine that’s six months old, why don’t you have it? Conversation

    • Nicole Taft June 1, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Yep. The magazines definitely fell in with the comfy chairs. Literal STACKS of them people would leave behind. And now instead of people ripping out pages, they just take pictures of them with their phone. Luckily we keep all of our….restroom prone magazines, as one might say, behind the registers. You want it? You gotta ask for it. Also I’m lucky in that I don’t have terribly difficult convos with people as to why we no longer have an old magazine. Usually they’re just looking for one that’s maybe a month old, and a simple, “We get the new one, the old ones get recycled” takes care of it.

      I did have a manager who had a brilliant idea once though. She wanted to replace our entire magazine wall with magazine vending machines. I just stared at her and said, “Find a way to do it.” She just laughed and thought I was joking, but I said, “No, I am dead serious. Figure out a way to do it because that would be AMAZING.”

  • Kelly McCarty June 5, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    I feel like I have seen a lot of stupid things in my life, but it never occurred to me to think of books as returnable items. I wouldn’t even attempt to return a book unless it was damaged, like I took it home and then discovered it was missing pages or someone had marked in it. I’m fairly patient but I don’t think I could stop myself from saying, “Do you realize that a service that lets you borrow books, read them, and return them already exists?”

    • Nicole Taft June 7, 2017 at 12:51 am

      The most common reasons I see people bring them back are, “I bought this and then realized I already owned it,” and “it was a gift.”

      The already-have-it people usually have their receipts so it’s fine. The gift people never do, or if they have a gift receipt, it’s rare. And they’re the ones who most often get all mad that we won’t take a book back. “But I know they bought it here – they SAID they did.” Yep. Great. Because I’m looking at the sales for this book and we haven’t sold it in, oh, the past YEAR. GTFO OUT OF MY STORE. Ok, so I don’t say that last part, but I’d like to.


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