Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Emily and the Chapters Christmas Flyer: A Holiday Tale

Guys... Do you realize what day it is?


It's no secret that I am a big into Christmas. I love everything about it, even stuff many people can't stand. I love the stores playing Christmas music on loop! I love the over abundance of sweets and chocolate! I love the mess of wrapping paper on Christmas morning! I love how busy the malls get right before the holiday! I love the billions of flyers that show up in your mailbox, advertising STUFF STUFF STUFF to BUY BUY BUY for all the people in your life!

This year, I got especially giddy when I saw that the Chapters/Indigo flyer had arrived, and was even happier when I realized this one was aimed at kids. It even included stickers. STICKERS! Oh, how I envied these children who got to select their favorite books using stickers with tantalizing phrases like "I WANT THAT" and "TOP PICK" printed on them! I opened the flyer, eager to see what books were being promoted to kids and teens this holiday season.

And then...

The Chapters flyer was about twenty pages long. Six pages were devoted to books. Six. SIX!!!! That's one spread for picture books, one for middle grade, one for teens. Everything else was LEGO, American Girl Dolls, Star Wars merchandise and bug-eyed animals. (Serious question: why do all stuffed toys have grapefruit eyes? Man, I hated this toy design as a kid and I STILL hate it!) I closed the flyer feeling a little betrayed that the one major bookstore chain still standing in Canada had put out a Christmas flyer that was only 30% books. (For those of you playing along in the USA, Chapters/Indigo is almost the exact same as Barnes and Noble. It even partners with Starbucks.)

First off, I did expect some toys. It's no secret that Chapters has diversified. When you enter the store these days, you have to wade through a sea of brick-a-brack and monogrammed towels before you reach any actual books. The kids department is no less, um, conflicted? There are games and puzzles and Star Wars (sooooo much Star Wars) and scented erasers and light-up bouncy balls and guys, this piece will go on forever if I list everything that is NOT books that is present in Chapters.

And on the whole... I'm okay with that.

This might seem kind of odd given my previous rant, but hear me out: I love bookstores. I love them so much, that if they have to meet their margins by selling other stuff, I am okay with that. Online book purchasing is eating the traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores alive, and most of the ones that are still standing are there because they have a selection of coffee mugs. If Betty Buysalot picking up a laughing Buddha statue while she waits in line at the check out keeps them in business, then by all means let Chapters keep their Not-Books sections. 

But of course, my comfort with them doing this is somewhat dependent on books being their primary purpose, and the Christmas flyer shook my faith a little. When I'm in the actual store, I still feel okay. There are shelves full of great books, including smaller time authors who want to have a fighting chance to sell their stuff. So don't count Chapters out. In fact, don't count out pretty much anyone who sells books!

In light of all this, I have decided, for the Holiday Season, to compile a few "Emily Rules" for buying books and supporting bookstores this year! Above all, make books a part of your Christmas this year, especially if you've got kids and teens on your list. With this in mind, I give you.....

The Emily Paxman Rules For Having A Splendiforous Christmas Season! 

1. Buy Books
Hooray for books! If you need incentive to buy more books, remember that books are relatively cheap presents that pull your kids eyes away from screens, make them more empathetic, and improve their comprehension and critical thinking skills. They will also do this to you if you are an adult.

The average paperback isn't gonna cost you much more than $15 and kid's paperbacks are often as cheap as $8 or $9. Hardcovers are a bit pricier, but still a pretty good bang for buck. These prices go even further down if you purchase gently used books.

Also, square packages with ribbons around them are sleek, sexy presents on Christmas day. 

2. When Possible, Buy your Books at Actual Living Breathing Bookstores Rather than Online
Turning aside the debate about whether or not you should buy ebooks or physical copies, I'm going to make a much less contentious statement and go from there: Whether you're an advocate for eReaders or print books, the reality is that the majority of books sold are STILL physical books. This is especially true for children and teens, who are less likely to own their own eReaders than their parents.

So with that in mind, I'm going to make my pitch for why you should support a bookstore rather than Amazon when you buy physical copies. Yes, this is largely a rule about a specific company. Amazon currently sells about 60% of all print books in North America. That is a massive share of the industry, and frankly, it has resulted in a lot of the problems you can imagine rising up from a monopoly.

Amazon has surpassed Walmart as the largest North American retailer. They play dirty with contracts, are at war with publishers over book pricing and yes, this does have a pretty brutal impact on authors. In 2014, when they were renegotiating their deal with Hatchette Book Group, they pulled a number of Hatchette's books from their site, delayed shipping them to consumers, and generally made them unavailable to try to scare the publisher into signing a sucky deal. For any traditional, non-self published author, this means that while Amazon is a necessary evil for sustaining their careers, they also make pitiful margins off the books you buy through them. 

All this being said, some books are flippin' hard to find, because they're rare or out of print, and Amazon can be a miracle worker in these instances. They're also the go-to source for self-published books, so if there is a self-published author you want to support, go ahead and use them. They also can save you a pretty penny sometimes too, but you'd be surprised how often you'll do just as well at a regular bookstore, and without shipping fees! If convenience is a concern, know that Chapters and many local bookstores allow you to order through their online stores. 

Most importantly, prioritize the first rule above the second. Buy books, then think about where you are getting them from.

3. Get to Know Your Local Bookstores!
I love Chapters, largely because they have an awesome Science Fiction and Fantasy section. I can also count on them to carry an up-to-date selection of books on the craft of writing.

But they are far from being my favorite bookstore. Unsurprisingly, that honor goes to the store with the best Children's book section, and that store is Bolen Books.

Bolen is local to Victoria, British Columbia and has been a staple of Hillside Mall for decades. Everything that Chapters is trying to do with their Children's section, Bolen does better. They've also diversified their holdings, but instead of carrying a bunch of generic toys you could find at Toys R Us or Walmart, they've focused on "brainy" and local toys. They have a gorgeous wall of puzzles, including the largest selection of local brand Cobble Hill I've ever seen in one place. They stock the high-end, European designed board games that all nerds love, as well as an interesting mix of children's and party games. Every Not-Book item they have seems carefully selected, and is kept in one, moderate sized section of the store, instead of overwhelming the actual books.

Then there's the Children's Section! Not only is it one of the largest in the city, but it carries an impressive mix of local and bestselling authors. It also stocks a fantastic array of coloring, puzzle, and paper doll books that make it truly unique. If you're shopping for a child, I can't recommend a better place.

The staff are always lovely to deal with and willing to offer a suggestion if you need help finding something. I'd also recommend taking your kids here to explore the store on their own. Just as it's important for kids to visit the library, I think it's important for kids to experience bookstores, where often the selection is a little more robust (at least at first glance - libraries of course have networks they can make use of, but let's face it. The most popular books can be hard to get a hold of at the library.) 

Of course, not every city has a Bolen Books. It is, by definition, a local bookstore. But there is probably some equivalent store in your own town. Check them all out until you find one that meets your needs.

4. Don't Forget the Used Bookstores!
Here in Victoria, my favorite is Russell Books. It's one of the best organized used bookstores I've been to, with the shelves reliably alphabetized and the variety on display always changing. They also stock new books, so if something is difficult to find, they can order it in for you, and often at a discount too! For students, they're a huge win, because they offer additional savings when you show them a valid student card.

5. Buy your Children some Star Wars Toys at Chapters
I might add that they also have Star Wars books here.

In all seriousness though, you'd be surprised how many major toy brands are stocked by bookstores. They've got Disney, Paw Patrol, Webkinz and everything else. It may seem like a weird way of supporting reading, but if you buy a few toys along with your books, you're helping keep bookstores open. 

We all know kids want toys for Christmas and I support them in their efforts to play. Brand recognition is also important to them. A couple weeks ago I watched one of my nephews go through that Chapters magazine and joyously affix stickers to the following: 

Star Wars Battleship
Star Wars Monopoly
Star Wars Chess
Some sort of whirly-gig puzzle ma-jigger

Kids want what they want.

But I have to admit... his Mean Old Auntie bought him a book instead. 

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