The alternative to the scrunched-up but cheaper book arriving from Amazon, is to go to a bookshop, if you have one nearby.
I don’t often do this, but just before Christmas Daughter was seized by a sudden urge to give her dental nurse a book about planets, so we repaired to Waterstones. She found one that fitted the bill, and bought it. Meanwhile I rested my tired legs sitting in one of Waterstones’ armchairs, within eavesdrop distance of the till.
Thus I overheard three conversations with potential customers asking about various books they wanted, with all three being told that unfortunately they didn’t have it in stock but could order it for them.
This is both helpful, and not. You get to talk to a human and you get information, even if it’s negative. It’s a pleasant sort of place to be in, and as I said, they have armchairs. If you don’t mind coming back, and have time to do so (this was on December 21st), then having the book ordered for you can be useful.
Or you go home and order it online. I would only go to the shop to browse, or in the full expectation that I could get my book there and then. If not, online buying allows me to sit in my own armchair, and there is still a delay in obtaining the actual book.
What Waterstones did have on that day, was a lovely selection of books that you buy when it’s Christmas, but that no one needs or knew they wanted. Plus a bookish lot of jigsaw puzzles and other more gadgety gifts with a book theme.
This is nice, but it’s not really what I look for.
I hear of authors going into their local shop looking for their own books, and being told they can order them.
Physical shops are good for browsing and finding something you might not have known you wanted. But these authors’ books will not be browsed and bought by happy coincidence. You need to know from the outset that you want to buy, and decide whether to shop online, or to visit your local shop twice to make the purchase. The latter is a lot of work in order to ‘support bookshops’ that appear not to stock what you’re interested in.
I don’t know what the solution is.