Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Scientific Bookstore in Frankfurt?

"Stefan, do you know any good bookstore here in Frankfurt where I can get some physics books?" That's a question I often hear from guests at our physics institute, or from postdocs who are trying to familiarise themselves with life in Frankfurt.

To my embarrassment, the only answer I can honestly give at the moment is that no, there aren't any such stores! There is in fact one large bookstore, Hugendubel, which belongs to a German chain, comparable maybe to Borders. But there, you will find just some recent popular science titles - only in German, of course - , and a small collection of standard textbooks for undergraduates, also in German. If you are looking for a more advanced textbook, or even some monograph, or for recent popular science titles in English, such as Lisa Randall's Warped Passages or Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong, you will be very disappointed! For a town such as Frankfurt, with quite a large a university and several research institutions, this is not really what you would expect!

There was, in fact, one bookstore in Frankfurt which was specialised in titles in the sciences, math, and engineering. Unfortunately, over the last years, it has suffered from the declining number of math and science students, and from the ever-growing competition of amazon. But the real problem of this wonderful store was, after the death of its founder, Harri Deutsch, the obvious, complete lack of interest of its new owners in its unique standing as a scientific bookstore. Long-term experienced booksellers were fired, shelves became more and more devoid of interesting volumes, or even remained completely empty, and the sad end of the story, two months ago, was insolvency.

I am quite sure that this end could have been avoided. On the other hand, I wonder if, maybe, time is up for specialised bookstores, and that in future, you just can hope that your local university bookstore (if there is one) or your local outlet of Hugendubel/Waterstone's/Borders/Phoenix/whatever has, by chance, a good assortment of scientific books.

What is your experience in this respect, for places other than Frankfurt? Do specialised stores survive, if big enough, as for example Offilib in Paris? Are there general bookstores with a nice selection of scientific books, such as Chaucer's in Santa Barbara, Dillons (now a Waterstone's) or Foyles in London, or Akademibokhandeln in Stockholm? Or has your local chain outlet a good assortment, such as the Borders in Westwood Village? As you can guess from the list, checking out local bookstores is a favourite of mine when travelling ;-)

Unfortunately, with respect to bookstores, Frankfurt can't compete with none of theses places. But when I said that there is no location at all where to look for scientific books, that was not quite true. There is in fact one tiny store, at the Science Campus Riedberg: It is the former subsidiary of Harri Deutsch, which has found a new and confident owner. It is still quite empty, but maybe, in the near future, it will be the place to go when you are looking for scientific books in Frankfurt!

So, Astrid and Dorothee, good luck with your new business!

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  1. Dear Stefan,

    well, I also wish best luck to the new bookstore.

    As you know, I am guilty of ordering my books on amazon.com. Though I have to add that I didn't do this such frequently in Europe. Most of the physics books I have ordered here via amazon.com were used from the marketplace. Most of the sellers there, however, ship only in the US - or want extraordinarily high shipping/custom fees. I am not sure actually, what the current situation is on amazon.DE

    Besides this, living on campus here is nice, coz of the university bookstores, where you get not only underwear with UCSB logo, but yes, also books. Maybe Frankfurt University should improve it's corporate identity by printing Goethe's head on bumper stickers...



  2. who needs bookstores when you can 'search inside the book' at amazon?

  3. I should say best of luck for that bookstore. I know that internet is your toughest competitor. Still I wish you can survive.

  4. Does Hugendubel still refuse to accept credit cards? I never entered that store again after I had to dump a pile of books at the cashier because of that.

  5. I recently went to San Jose after a 5 year absence. I found only one of its half dozen former tech bookstores still in business.

    The owner said he was the only such store in all of northern California.

    OpAmp in Los Angeles is also a shadow of its former self.

    Curse you Amazon! Maybe you can "search inside the book", but you still can't smell the ink!

  6. Indeed, amazon & co are probably the most severe thread to any specialisd bookstore. But then, on the other hand, who needs bookstores where you can get only top-50 titles from some bestselling lists?

    I have to admit that I appreciate the search-inside option of amazon: If I know that something I want to look up is in this or that book, it saves me from going to the library. And it gives you, indeed, a first impression of how a book looks like. But I completely agree with anonymous-3 that it does not replace at all the experience of browsing through real pages.

    Does Hugendubel still refuse to accept credit cards?

    I never paid attention to that, since I usually pay cash or with debit card (EC card). But indeed, the Hugendubel website tells you that you have to pay your purchase cash or per debit card - credit cards are not mentioned. That's really strange!

    Best, stefan

  7. That's indeed strange. One of the things that I like here is that the debit cards come with a credit-card #, so you can use them 'as if' you had a credit, but it's actually withdrawn directly from your account.

    Regarding the amazon-issue. I agree with you that searching inside the book doesn't replace looking at the real thing. But if I go to the next bookstore, how would I know if I can actually look at the book I want to look at? Okay, if you are searching for inspiration, bookstores are a nice thing, esp. if they come with a Cafe-corner. But what I would really find handy is when I could find out whether they have this or that book in stock.

    However, one of the most annoying things in bookstores like Borders or Hugendubel is that the employees most often can't tell you anything about the books you are interested in, unless it's a Bestseller or so, and then they tell you what the amazon-reviews say. That would be a good reason to go to a specialist shop. But then it really takes someone who knows what he's talking about, and not a 15 year old student who asks you if you have meet the Nobelprize winner XYZ and if he's a nice guy (he isn't). Best


  8. It is tough for small bookstores and small presses to survive. I have recently posted equations and graphics, some of the first on blogger. People's reaction will be interesting.

  9. Hi Stefan,

    Dare I mention Heffers bookstore opposite Trinity College gates in Cambridge, and Waterstones the bookstore, but they don't really classify as 'small' bookstores.

    But a tip for anyone in Cambridge Galloway & Porter has some great give aways for £1.00, when they clear out old stock, you can find some real beauties.

    And of course the Market -
    where there is a boostall with some excellent old books, and newer textbooks secondhand.

  10. My favorite activity in travelling used to be visiting the local bookstores. I still have three volumes of the German edition of Landau and Lifshitz.

    And I still can't read German.

    Living in a small town, I have to love Amazon, but something important has been lost.

  11. Stefan,

    Just read this blog entry and I was wondering if the bookstore you mentioned that went bankrupt was Kiepert. I know it died in Berlin and I was devastated when I heard that. What a great bookshop that was. When we went visited Berlin my wife would give me a whole day to spend in Kiepert! Mind you, she never provided the money...:-). The bookshop also had the most amazing telephone ringtone.


  12. Hi Henry,

    I was talking about Harri Deutsch, a bookstore that opened in Frankfurt am Main around 1950. I am not aware of some Kiepert bookstore in Frankfurt, but I know that there had been at least two more large bookshops in town about 10 years ago, which had already vanished when I moved to Frankfurt.

    Best, stefan

  13. Hi quasar,

    you are right - Galloway & Porter and Heffers in Cambridge are also great stores - I completely forgot about them, but It is nearly 15 years ago that I have been there, and I probably could not really appreciate what they offer ;-)

    Hi cip,

    My favorite activity in travelling used to be visiting the local bookstores.

    That's nice to hear that there are more people around with such strange habits when travelling ;-) You always have to keep an eye on your weight ;-) (OK, for those who don't know the habit, the weight of the luggage)

    I still have three volumes of the German edition of Landau and Lifshitz.

    That's also nice to hear, since I have been working for the LL's German publisher the last years. OK, the Landau/Lifshitz is reprinted without any changes since its translation into German in the 1960s in the former GDR.

    Best, stefan


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