Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Of English Muffins and Consumer Activism

I grew up watching old movies with my mother on television. Since she adored Cary Grant, we saw every movie he ever made (over and over). Mom also told me countless stories about Grant.

I remembered one of those stories tonight while I was eating my ready-made Cobb salad from my local supermarket. There was one-half of a hard-boiled egg in my salad. Where did the other half go, I wondered?

That egg reminded me of a story Mom had told. I googled and found it in an article titled "The Cary Grant That Nobody Knows," by Geoffrey Wansell (written in 1984).

Grant was reputed to be a penny-pincher, but Wansell argued that the star simply hated to be cheated. He pointed to this incident to illustrate what he meant:

A curious and comic instance of this occurred at the Plaza Hotel in New York. He [Grant] had ordered coffee and English muffins (plural) to be sent up to his room for breakfast. When they arrived, there were only three half slices, or one-half slice less than two.

“I asked the waiter why, and he didn’t know,” Grant said. “I called the head of room service, who also didn’t know. I went up the line. No one could explain.” So he telephoned the hotel’s owner, Conrad Hilton, in Beverly Hills, “but his office told me he was in Istanbul.”

Undeterred, he then telephoned Hilton in Istanbul to ask why he had been brought only three half slices of muffin at the Plaza in New York when the menu clearly stated, “muffins.”

“Conrad knew the answer,” he recalled later. “It seems a hotel efficiency expert had decreed that all guests left the fourth slice of muffin on their plate. As a plate cleaner-upper, I was appalled.” And he proceeded to tell Hilton that he should immediately alter his menu to read “muffin and a half.”

“It cost me several hundred dollars in phone calls,” Grant added, “but ever since, I have always gotten four slices of muffin at the Plaza.”

I know just how Grant felt. I wanted the other half of my damn egg. But there are other things I want more.

Last Wednesday, I blogged about the renewed interest in O.J.'s book here. I said:

It makes my skin creep to think of ANYONE profiting from the death of Nicole and Ron. I can't remember ever associating the word "evil" with an inanimate object before, but this whole project is misbegotten, and I wish the book-buying public would just join together to help the book die.

Publishers Weekly (PW) reported today that Barnes & Noble has announced they will not carry If I Did It in any of their "traditional" stores. They will, however, carry it online at their website.

Borders told PW that they would carry the store in their bricks-and-mortar locations with a spokesperson justifying the move by saying "there will be customers who have an interest in purchasing the book.” The spokesperson went on to say that Borders “will not promote or market the book in anyway.”

I think I'm going to send both bookchains an email, letting them know what I think of their respective decisions. I'm not going to address the on-line issue. If a reader wants the book badly enough to wait a week for it to arrive, there's nothing I can do about it. I just want to slow down those impulsive buys. Call it a cooling off period.

Within a few days after the release, the newspapers and magazines will carry all the titillating excerpts, and interest in buying the book will wane.

I have membership cards to both stores. Perhaps I can influence Borders' decision to carry the book in their stores.

And--before I get hate mail--I do believe in freedom of speech. I'm not suggesting that the publication of the book be prevented or even that the sale of the book be stopped. Just that the stores insure that the consumers who buy it are really committed to owning it.

And, as a consumer, I have a right to voice my opinion, too.

I think Cary Grant would approve.

P.S. If you are so inclined, the link to offer feedback to Borders is here. Scroll down to just below the line about "Corporate/Organization Discount" and fill in the form.


Laura Vivanco said...

I'm not going to address the on-line issue. If a reader wants the book badly enough to wait a week for it to arrive, there's nothing I can do about it. I just want to slow down those impulsive buys. Call it a cooling off period.

I buy almost all my new books online, and it's pretty easy to impulse buy online. In fact, it may even be easier than impulse buying in a real shop. After all, all you need to is go online and click and type a little. In the real world you need to get to the shop, find the book in the shop, decide you really want it after you've had the chance to flick through a few pages, and decide how you feel about how the shop assistants might feel about you should you buy the book (if you're buying a book you think they might scoff at/look at you badly for buying, which is the case with this book).

There isn't really a "cooling-off" period when you buy online, because it doesn't take long to get to the "confirm order" stage, and while you might change your mind between then and the book arriving, you could also change your mind after you've left a shop and got the book home.

Maya Reynolds said...

Laura: Interesting. For me, with impulse buys, when I want the book, I want it THEN. The idea of waiting a week irritates me (have I mentioned I'm impatient?), and I'll often get in the car and drive to the store to find it.

I only buy online when it's a book I know I won't be able to read right away.

I'm scheduled to go to Bethesda next month for four days. Over the next four weeks, I'll be looking for books to read on the plane. Those books I'm likely to order online.

[shrug] Clearly Borders thinks there's a value to selling locally. We'll have to see how many they sell.

Laura Vivanco said...

I suppose it's because (a) I don't have a car, so getting to the bookshop involves a walk. It's not that far but (b) I know I can't depend on the bookshop to have the book I want in stock.

So, my choice would tend to be between (1) walking to the shop, not finding the book there, ordering it and then waiting till it arrives and then having to walk back to collect it or (2) go online, find book, order, book is delivered. Option 2 is very much simpler, and if I buy a few books at the same time I get free delivery. In addition, the books are often sold at a discount which wouldn't be offered in the bookshop.

Maya Reynolds said...

Laura: That makes perfect sense--especially if you don't keep a car.