David Nicholls Sees Showrooming as “Gentile Shoplifting”, Wants Kids to Get Off his Lawn

about_davidYesterday The Guardian, that bastion of all that is good and true and British, published a summary of author, screenwriter, and former bookseller David Nicholls' recent keynote speech at the London Book Fair's Digital Minds Conference.

In between lamenting the demise of the horse-drawn carriage and the rise of women's suffrage, Nicholls took a few minutes to express his disapproval for anyone who shops online:

Nicholls spoke of his years as a bookseller, running the children’s department in Waterstones Notting Hill and “believing, like all booksellers, that books are somehow special, that the expertise and enthusiasm of booksellers is vital, that if you love bookshops you should spend money there, and that to discover a book on display in a well-staffed, lovingly maintained shop, to hold it in your hand then to sneak off and buy the same book online, is really just a genteel form of shoplifting”.

Did you hear that?

This means, folks, that if you don't have the funds to buy a book when you discover it in a bookstore but do have the funds weeks later, you can't buy it.

That would be shoplifting.

And if you want to buy the book online so you can order it through the bookstore you love, you can't do that either.

That would be shoplifting.

And if you want to buy it online so you can get it in your preferred format, well, tough. You can't do that because Nicholls has decried that this is a gentile form of shoplifting.

I am so glad that we have an imminent authority available who can pass judgement on acceptable behavior, otherwise I don't know what I would do.

And as a later section of his keynote shows, he is out of touch with a lot of readers:

My love of the book as object, and by extension the public library and bookshop, has to do with the way stories are experienced, remembered, shared and passed on. No one has yet found a way to unwrap digital data, to turn it into something you cherish, or to give online browsing the same pleasure, satisfaction and sense of discovery as walking around a bookshop,” he said.

So basically the hundreds of millions of people who talk about books on Goodreads, Facebook, and other sites aren't getting the same pleasure from the experience as they would if they drove a half hour or more and then wandered the toys, gifts, and gewgaw _aisles_ at Barnes & Noble?

I don't see it.

Can someone explain?

About Nate Hoffelder (11466 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

39 Comments on David Nicholls Sees Showrooming as “Gentile Shoplifting”, Wants Kids to Get Off his Lawn

  1. I had a similar reaction. It’s ridiculous and comes from the same place as people who hate libraries. We’ve all seen the folks who think libraries are one step (if that) above piracy.

    You have to trust your customers to do the right thing for themselves. If your business model makes it easy for the “right thing for them” to intersect with the “right thing for you,” then great. If not, stay welcoming and trust they will come back when the time is right.

    Besides, calling it shoplifting is just stupid. Shoplifting denies anyone the proceeds of the sale. Showrooming gives money to someone. If a bookstore is concerned about showrooming, then make an effort to understand what your customers want and give it to them so they are more likely to buy from you and not someone else.

  2. Smart Debut Author // 15 April, 2015 at 11:07 am // Reply

    “Can someone explain it?”

    Former telegraph operator shouting incoherently at cell towers and trying to guilt-trip random passerby holding cell phones.

    What’s there to say, really?

      • Smart Debut Author // 15 April, 2015 at 1:12 pm // Reply

        “In between lamenting the demise of the horse-drawn carriage and the rise of women’s suffrage…”

        You made me laugh out loud… 🙂 Snark props, man. Much respect.

        • Thank you.

          It felt like the correct level of hyperbole to use in response to Nicholls claim of genteel shoplifting.

          • Smart Debut Author // 15 April, 2015 at 4:25 pm //

            In all seriousness, he’s a frigging idiot.

            When potential customers are still coming in to your stores but they aren’t buying anything, they’re telling you loud and clear that your prices just aren’t competitive.

            If you want to stay in business, you need to fix that.

            And if you can’t, then your business model is broken and you need to fix that, first.

            Only a moron would instead insult those potential customers and chase them off.

          • There’s more to it that price (it’s also a relationship/marketing/salesmanship thing), but yes, customers are saying something by showrooming.

  3. Nitpick alert. “Nicholls has decried that this is a gentile form of shoplifting.” — gentile and genteel have very different meanings. I’ll stop there.

  4. Except it turns out that he is correct. You are stealing from them. The book seller is taking the time to curate the texts that are available. If you walk in and take a photo of the cover with your phone to buy it at home, you are stealing from them and exploiting their efforts.
    If you do not feel bad about it, then you might want to re-evaluate your worldview.
    It blows my mind that you do not empathize with his view. Obviously, his rhetoric is silly, but I recommend looking past words like gentile. Please have respect for the people in your community, have respect for your local bookstore clerks and owners.

    • When I get treated like a second-hand citizen (felon, really) because he and his staff sneer at the titles I ask for, that’s a problem.

      Curation is fine. Contempt (in person AND online after the fact) is not. Genre readers get this too often WHICH IS WHY indie booksellers started losing business. i guarantee you if a store opened up that was all romance or scifi/fantasy with well-curated titles, it would thrive.

      • It seems you have miss interpreted my statement. That you had a bad experience with a book seller is a red herring, is irrelevant to what we are talking about. None the less, I am sorry that someone was mean to you.
        It is also irrelevant that you do not have a genre specific book store in your city. Maybe you should move? I don’t know how to help you with that.

        But I’ll re-iterate the point:

        If you write down titles from a curated book store and then go buy them some where else, you are stealing the work that the clerks and owners put in.

          • question mark // 16 April, 2015 at 1:47 pm //

            It seems there might be some confusion in the use of the word ‘stealing’. You might be thinking of it only in legal terms, in that you might be taken to jail because of writing down book titles. That is not the case.
            It might be easier to think of the issue in terms of being respectful to other human beings, to the booksellers and shop owners. I know that being respectful can be hard when everything has been dehumanized via branding, when society is tilling you that the only thing that matters is money, when you have your own day-in-day-out crap to deal with. But that bookseller is a person, so try to be respectful.

          • Don’t patronize me.

            I’m an author and my only Google alerts are ones where people are pirating my books.

  5. And this is why I don’t go into bookstores any more. I strive to be a well-behaved person, and because I know I’m going to want to buy it in ebook form if at all possible, I make sure I just don’t ever _see_ pbooks.

    I’m sure this is what people had in mind, when they object to gentile/genteel/genuflecting shoplifting/showrooming/wtfery. They _wanted_ to stop people from going into bookstores.

    • I am not sure what “they” had in mind.

      But having worked in a small book store, I would just want people to be respectful of the work the clerks and owners put in. If your preferred way of reading is ebooks, buy a tote bag or whatever. The people that work at small shops are probably making close to minimum wage, and they are doing it because they believe in it.

  6. I hereby shall no longer steal my books from bookstores by not making use of them at all! I’ll hereby shall cease my genteel thieving ways and acquire my books solely through libraries, friends & family, online retailers, used retailers, book traders, swap-meets, free libraries, public domain, throwaways, etc. Doing such I will thenceforth be unable to burgle from guaranteed sales bookstores have an automatic right too!

    *adjusts monocle and poshly harrumphs*

    I’m certain Mr. Nicholls shall be immensely pleased. =)

    • Well said.

    • If you have no intention of buying books at the shop, if you are going to price check every book that peeks your interest, not going at all is probably the best bet for you. It turns out that, not matter where you are shopping, you will pretty much always be able to find the book cheaper somewhere else. What you will not always be able to find is a bookseller who invests in curating a selection, someone who will listen to what you interests are and make an informed recommendation. If you find some gem on the shelf in a local shop, not talking about 50 Shades or Harry Potter, someone worked to put that book on the shelf, to highlight that book, to make it available. And that should be respected.

      • lol. I don’t even find those type of booksellers at all. Unless they’re librarians, comic book merchants, traders, loaners, or second-hand/used book sellers.

        And even when I do go to a first-hand seller to buy a book that in no way ever entitles them to an actual purchase from me, if at all. Just because I’m a consumer doesn’t mean I’m a drone.

        Thanks for the laugh.

  7. I’m not sure why people feel so negative about this person’s statement. Where I live, book prices are fixed, meaning the same book costs the same everywhere. So it doesn’t make sense to buy books you see offline now later in some online shop. If the statement refers to places, where book prices are not fixed, it may indeed be somewhat unfair to go to the offline shop, look at what your interested in, touch it perhaps, and then, if you’re happy with what you’ve seen, walk away and buy it elsewhere where it’s cheaper. The least you could do is tell the shop you’ve seen this cheaper in the price comparison on your smartphone and offer to buy it for the cheaper price from the offline shop. That would at least give the offline shop a chance to adapt its offer or to explain to you why it can’t be offered cheaper. Would that be asking too much? I don’t think so. I know the phenomenon mostly from electronic device shops, where things like cables are often ridiculously overpriced and devices usually just more expensive.

    • I’m annoyed because he makes the same assumption that you do: that money is the only thing which influences our buying decisions. Some of us need the large print edition, so we are forced to buy ebooks. (And that’s just one reason.)

      I’m also annoyed because he’s stuck in the 19th century; he assumes that only the physical bookstore matters.

      And as for money, some of us have mortgages or other fiscal constraints, and we have to be cheap.

      But the biggest reason I’m pissed is that I only read this kind of nonsense coming from the book industry. I don’t know of any other industry where someone will give a keynote address at a major trade fair and whine about customers being cheap.

      Can you imagine a computer company exec complaining about customers not wanting to pay full price? Sure, he might want to charge more but he won’t be an asshole about it.

  8. I might have misinterpreted the context in which the statements were made, but from the quotes in the post it sounded to me like he was speaking from a bookseller’s perspective. People who walk into a shop to touch and crumple what’s exposed there and then walk away to buy the very things they’ve seen there elsewhere are no useful customers. Where I live, I haven’t actually heard such complaints from book sellers, but I have indeed from electronic device sellers. If they sell, say, photo cameras, people touching and scratching them actually decrease their value. How much that hurts shops probably depends on how large they are. But many people these days don’t walk into an electronic device shop to actually buy there but rather to check out the products that they’ve already planed to buy at the cheapest online outlet. So I got the impression that the person in the article was complaining from the seller’s perspective, not the manufacturer’s one. I wonder, if he’d have complained, if customers didn’t walk into shops from which they (know in advance they) don’t want to buy but instead ordered those things online (inspired from the often lacking web shop product descriptions) and then sent back what they don’t like. And again, this is not a complaint I’ve heard from book shops here but from shops that sell other products. But maybe it’s a different market here. The British perspective may be different. And the American one may again be different.

    • Perhaps this is a difference: I don’t have specialist electronics or camera shops in my area. I just have the big box retailers, and no one cares if you show room one of those stores. I also usually can’t get much in the way of useful info from browsing one of those stores, so I don’t try.

      the often lacking web shop product descriptions

      I wouldn’t look to a webshop for detailed info any more than I would look to a big box retailer. Instead, I would go find an expert website and look through their database. That’s how I bought my last camera.

      • My husband buys at best Buy because they price match Amazon. He doesn’t want to wait until the next day even (usually it’s an emergency or a gift card).

        They’re helpful and nice and yes, money is an issue, but convenience in this case makes Best Buy the better choice than Amazon. We NEVER showroom Best Buy and we don’t showroom bookstores because there’s not one who stocks my genre and they all actively refuse to.

        Color me not having bad feelz.

        Also? Price controls are bad in so very many ways.

      • This seems like a very important distinction. It probably does not matter if you are write down titles at Walmart.

  9. Oh come on, this is just crap, isn’t it? You fancy buying a new Mac so you go and try on out somewhere. Then, when you get home you have a choice of on line store options. That is in no way shop lifting, that’s life.

    The store have their chance while your in situ, if they miss it and fail to make a sale that is hard cheese on their part.

    • I feel like this analogy does not work well. Buying a Mac is not the same as buying a book. The selection and prices will be the same for a computer at every store, Best Buy and Apple and Walmart.
      The “that’s life” attitude indicates that you do not understand the situation, that you do not take responsibility for your actions, that you do not respect the efforts of other people in your community. It is not just life; it is you, a person, exploiting the efforts of the bookseller, a person.

  10. As someone who loves books and with terrible allergies to book dust, I stay out of book stores. But, before they got bad, I was only allowed in book stores with cash, no credit cards.
    And for him to think that book stores are the only way to buy books, let him live where I do, when the nearest book store is over 90 miles away, one way (actually, to get to one, I have to drive across the entire southern part of Nebraska to Omaha or Lincoln). It puts buying books in digital format in perspective, especially when gas is expensive.

    • I think you can safely assume, if you’ll die if you enter a bookstore, you are not the person the article referring to.

  11. This is a tough one to comment on, as I am Jewish (or to be politickally korrect ‘porcine impaired’), not a gentile, I can not be guilty of his assertions. But as I am Jewish, guilt comes naturally, so I will take some of the blame.

    Despite being the happy owner of my 3rd Kobo (fiction), a Nexus 7 (newsfeed/web), Nook HD+ (magazine/textbook/reference), note 4 (opportunistic) I start my Sundays at a ‘Friends of the Library’ bookstore and spent on average USD$30 on used/donated books for myself and family.

    (Later in the day, if nothing compelling was discovered, we will go to the local bookseller.)

    My guilt stems from the fact that I had the unmittigated gall to support public libraries and literacy programs by spending my $$ on used books where the proceeds do not benifit the publisher, or for that matter employees, as the staff are volunteers. And to make the guilt overwhelming, I ENJOY the experience at this location, as it has a nice coffeeshop, childrens reading area, reading nooks and tables scattered throughout, and a complete lack of paid-promotion endcaps flogging the latest ghostwritten celebrity bio or lastest in some splattergory !

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