Everything was plastic, cheap, very disposable, and very much intended for conspicuous consumption. Some part of me feels like we've fallen very far if literature, one of the pinnacles of human accomplishments, can only be sold if you can also buy the kind of garbage that's rapidly filling our oceans and landfills as well. There is a bizarre dichotomy between books - the things that can potentially last a lifetime and satisfy countless readers - and the impulsively purchased and remarkably unnecessary items which will be bought and lost or disposed of within a year.
I might be overly pessimistic about it. I want my kids to have more wholesome experiences when it comes to the type of media (especially books) they consume. I'll keep taking them to the library the majority of the time, and otherwise, go to local book shops which just sell books. If they still exist.
I feel a little bit like Abe Simpson. "I used to be with 'it', but then they changed what 'it' was.". Maybe Indigo is just fine.
Most of the items are decent and some are quite nice. I've seen very nice blankets, good quality stationery and related items, board games, and the sort of mid-quality art/nerdy things that you tend to see in the gift shops of museums and art galleries.
None of it is stuff you "need" which may be causing your reaction, but if you were to buy it, you wouldn't throw (most of) it out a week later.
I don't head over there often, but I use a tea mug from that place every day in the office.
I used to like visiting those stores when they were "Chapters" whenever we'd visit the city (read extent-suburbs) as a kid. It was especially exciting when we didn't have internet or up-to-date computers and I'd get to browse the multitudes of computer and music magazines. Always left me jealous. I think that place had a bit better of a thing going—it was less frenetic.
That said, the buying power of Indigo makes it a worthwhile place to search for a book if you can't find it locally.
Where have we come to when even a bookstore uses a picture of books for decor in place of actual books?
This has nothing to do with the health of literature. It's about brick and mortar stores being overextended in the 21st century when we've got all kinds of alternative ways to buy and consume merchandise including books.
I remember my childhood when there wasn't Indigo or Chapters big box stores in KW. There was a Coles inside Fairview and Conestoga malls taking up the space of a typical mall store. It's just the rise and fall of big box book stores.
If you remember the 80s and 90s, you may remember lingering in bookstores because they were a focal point to daytime city life. Before online dating, you would meet women and men there, and that was the whole point. If you ask any man of a certain age from a city who the "bookstore girl," was, he will have a memory, if not a story for you. It was a big part of city culture.
What Reismann (and her predecessor, Chapters) did initially was bring suburban big box stores into the city and wiped out a lot of the street life and culture, and with it, small publishers. In effect this polarized the market for fiction, where literary fiction today has been reduced to "content," and a lot of unctuous posturing funded by grant money.
However, after hollowing the market out, Reismann branched out with Indigo and kind of re-planted, where her stores are once again places for people to linger. They are placed near movie theatres, so it was something to do while you waited.
The formula that Indigo is getting right is, like us in software, it's about generating retail traffic. You need a funnel to drive conversions. To do that, you need to attract women, who draw men, and the frisson that keeps them coming back is what turns the engine over. Let's face it, Indigo isn't a Cabela's with books because that's not how you get that retail traffic engine to turn over. It's more like Anthropologie meets a craft shop.
I don't like shopping at Indigo, but that's not the point. As a man I go there because I can get a new release or something relatively mainstream faster than amazon can deliver it, and crucially, I can get exposure to that element of social randomness and optionality that is completely absent and destroyed in cities now that everyone carries a slot machine in their pocket. The most interesting future from my view will be the one that gets people actually talking and connecting again the way we used to in bookstores and cafes.
The MFA was born in 1940. Form before content is not a product of Borders. The same kinds of people read pretentious literature worldwide and the same kinds of people write it. It’s like avant-garde theatre, it’s the same everywhere. Literary fiction is no more because of Borders than fantasy or detective fiction is. People aren’t completely useless at realising that there are clusters in the kinds of books people like to read, even without computers. Those clusters are genres and literary fiction is one of them.
The big box store killed the more sparse and diverse shops that sustained the market for niches like Nobel, Booker, and other prize winners. Litfic is mainly character driven over of plot driven, so to say it's all pretentious would be a bit much. The result was that Indigo came to resemble a kind of landfill of discarded ideas, where the good stuff got lost in the effort to find it.
The kind of things B&N has there are (all of these are probably incomplete since I'm mostly going from what I've noticed):
• A bunch of different kinds of games. Board games, card games, dice games from a variety of types (strategy games, role playing games, party games, for example).
• Puzzles. Assembly, disassembly, interlocking, take apart, and other such infuriating things. Rubik's assorted things and similar. Jigsaw puzzles.
• Collectables and branded stuff, such as action figures, bobble heads, key chains, plushies and such for assorted popular characters from Disney, Marvel, DC, Studio Ghibli, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and others. Even some food, such as "Bertie Botts, Every Flavour Jelly Beans".
• LEGO. A bunch of sets and kits, both generic and themed.
• Toys. Quite a bit of these are STEM related, such as simple electronics kits and simple robotics stuff, microscopes, telescopes, anatomy models, and more.
It's actually a pretty good and interesting selection.
They also sell some card/board games (and even, oddly, a rather large collection of tarot card decks), stationery (notebooks, journals, calendars), some greeting cards (but not a whole aisle of them), and a few other things that aren’t quite accessories to books, but make more sense from another interpretation of their paradigm: “expensive, medium-to-high-quality paper products that nobody would be likely to buy for themselves, and which therefore make good gifts when you want to make it clear that you didn’t just buy them something from the dollar store and/or Walmart.” In other words: bougie paper products.
Oh, and—separately again—their childrens’ section, as well as containing books, contains toys, but only those that could (perhaps loosely) be referred to as “learning toys.” Indigo wants to supplant traditional toy stores as the destination for adults trying to shop for a gift for a child, with a different approach—rather than stocking the toys the kids want, they stock the toys that adults think would most benefit kids to play with. If you recall the kids’ section of early ThinkGeek—before they became a HotTopic-alike “cultural branding” store—it has that same kind of feel: gifts you could get your niece/nephew, that would both make the kid excited, but also make their parents appreciate the purchase (rather than resenting it for how much it’s distracting the kid from their studies or, potentially, damaging their house.)
These days, I don't really buy technical books any more (plenty of online docs), I get audio books when possible, and I don't bother with magazines at all. On a side note, given how much money I would have saved, I would have totally loved Apple's News offering back then, but with my reading habits today, it seems like a weird idea to me.
The only time I go into the local Chapters/Indigo these days is if I'm craving a coffee and they're the only place around.
After some years, the store devolved. Again using the computer section as an example, the rows and rows of full shelves got hollowed out. The cool stuff went first, until there were many mostly-empty shelves with just the riffraff books like certification guides and software guides for specific apps and versions thereof. Really, what was left was the most disposable, and least interesting of books. Eventually, the once-awesome department collapsed like a red giant star turning into a white dwarf.
Once Indigo bought Chapters, the stores were doomed as far as being bookstores went. Most of the floor space immediately turned into places for greeting cards and scented candles, knickknacks replacing books far and wide. The NYT describes this as a big bookstore chain thriving, but it isn't really a bookstore chain at all. Maybe it's profitable, but there is no point now in my entering one.
Discovery of interesting books, and quick, convenient purchase of same, is more effectively done online now. Even before the acquisition, Chapters had gone in my experience from being able to order books that weren't in stock, to ordering and never receiving books without explanation. Perhaps they were no longer keeping up with paying suppliers.
I think books are special enough that there should be some legislation to get rid of DRM on them or at least require DRM be cross platform, be transferable, and expire when the book enters the public domain.
Right, that's what I was getting at in my post. It looks like they know they have to compete with Amazon on this front, and in the process they've reduced the incentive to shop in their physical stores.
BUT... I have given Indigo too many second chances on their non-book merchandise so their new defocussed focus makes me cringe. I've had to do many returns, embarrassing gift returns, because of poor quality crap. Two "literary" mugs, on separate occasions, whose messages started to wash off after several uses. A "literary" quote pillow whose stitching came undone within months. A smart-seeming not-cheap boardgame with wooden pieces that could have lasted a lifetime time if it wasn't for crappy quality control that left the pieces painted with grossly offcenter markings that you can't unsee while playing. Sure, they sell some highish-end consumer electronics, which seem really out of place, but then that's an area where their staff are out of their depth when I've asked questions.
Too many merchandise strikes for me. So you're out, Indigo. I'll only shop there for books now. Which means I cringe and put on tunnel vision as I'm forced to walk through all their non-book plastic futuretrash.
Their model is obviously working for them and for most people. So I recognize I'm probably just a retro bookstore grouch with unrealistic expectations. And I recognize book margins may not be great. But maybe instead of selling barely-relevant disposable garbage, they could help their bottom line by moving just outside of the highest rent locations? (Multi-story retail on Robson Street in Vancouver, really??)
Books endure. Most of their new crap doesn't. Still feels awkward.
This is the Amazon model. Start with books and move onto other items. Great for them, but not novel or innovative.
Their selection is generally meager compared to a lot of other online stores here. Honestly, every time I pass by a Chapters/Indigo, I'm surprised they're still around.
My guess is that they still get a lot of bricks and mortar customers who want instant gratification with a dead tree book purchase (provided it's a popular, stocked title).
Only once in the last year did I have a focused reason to hit them up, I wanted to get a certain book for my kid to start reading together THAT NIGHT.
My impression is that Indigo is a seller of physical books at a time when reading is increasingly going online, so they are turning into an odds-and-ends store for the people Stuff White People Like was written about.
It's as if people started drinking less and less coffee and Starbucks slowly morphed into a kitchen-gear store.
Funny enough, also Canadian (well, written by a Canadian)
I think the major issue currently with books is that most people only listen to audio books or podcasts. As well as books take up physical space. I regret to say that I too have been buying less physical books because of running out of room on my bookshelves! I used to be very proud of my ever growing personal library... Now I'm unsure if the investment was worth it.
This doesn't seem that different from Barnes & Noble. About a third of the floor space in our local B&N is book-adjacent collectables (Harry Potter memorabilia, Funko Pops) and another quarter is stationery.