It’s More Than Shopping Local

Josie Leavitt -- February 27th, 2014

I am discouraged. I know I often cheerlead for independent bookstore, but I’ve overheard one conversation too many this week about people and their Kindles. Two women at the gym were discussing how to find a “lost” book on their device. I resisted the urge to tell them that they don’t really own anything on the Kindle: Amazon can take it away anytime they feel like it, as they did with all MPS titles a few years back. This conversation has really stayed with me and made my shoulders slump. Perhaps it’s the cold that has set in, but some days I fear the bookstore will go the way of the record store. Some of our younger readers might be wondering, just what is a record store?

LocalFirst_Logo_color_1I cannot stress this enough: you must shop at the stores you want to stay open. I know I said this in December, but it’s even truer now in the long stretch of winter before Easter, when book buying budgets are tight for everyone. Yes, it’s easy, and probably fun, to buy books on line (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never done it) but there will be a price for the convenience. I’m just going to say this: Amazon is a company that is out only for itself. Their business model is one based largely on trying to beat the competition by selling books at a loss to lure you into the site to buy more things that are not so steeply discounted. Most other businesses I know cannot sell their products at a loss. We don’t really have cool gadgets. The American Bookselling Association tried to get us all gadgets to sell, but we came to that danc party a little too late and that never really took off, as Amazon and Apple were already deeply entrenched in the public’s eye as the devices to get.

Here’s the thing: practically every day I have a customer who is visiting from a town where there is no longer a bookstore. These are sad people. But then they enter the store and smile. They visibly relax. They are home. This feeling is impossible to quantify in business terms. But this is what needs to happen. It’s more than shopping local. It’s shopping where the passion is. The passion for books, or wine, or music, or toys, etc. This needs to be the next wave of the independent store campaign. Do not misunderstand me: I love the shop local movement. It has been a boon to business in many ways, but it needs to shift because there is no urgency there. Urgency doesn’t need to be negative, it just needs to inspire action.

Sadly, it’s often not until a store is gone that folks realize how much that store was entwined into their lives and they feel the distinct lack of it. So, be preemptive and shop where the passion lives on the shelves every day. Shop where people work because they can’t not work at a bookstore. Shop where conversations are about celebrating an art form (and this is where Amazon can’t hold a candle to a bricks and mortar store). So, shop at all the stores you want to stay open, because once they close, they’re gone.

9 thoughts on “It’s More Than Shopping Local

  1. Pam LaBarbiera

    I agree, and my local bookstore is the local Barnes and Noble. I do use Amazon occasionally for something I can’t find here–a lot of authors I like have turned to self-publishing–but it’s not easy to browse and find a new author on Amazon. And keep in mind that Amazon has never, not once, had a profitable quarter–they are always in the red.

  2. Linda Marshall

    Independent bookstores are so few and far between now. When I lived in Arkansas I drove to another state to an indie, but oh, what an indie it was. We’d make a day of staying in Oxford, Mississippi and I’d go into Square Books two or three times in one day. There were wonderful locally owned restaurants on the same downtown square, my favorite being Ajax that served Southern food in a funky atmosphere. We’d walk around the pretty grounds at William Faulkner’s 1849 home.

    Sometimes “shopping local” and shopping your passion requires a drive, but it was a happy, pleasant day trip for us.

  3. Carol Chittenden

    Part of the issue, I observe, is that people truly love the convenience of shopping online, and few people seem aware that independent stores have websites and shopping carts as well. Since I’ve been emphasizing that to our customers, I’ve seen a definite uptick in online orders.

  4. oliver_optic@yahoo.com

    I get a little tired of the Amazon bashing. First a bit about me, I got my first job in a bookstore in 1975, the Militant Bookstore in Pittsburgh. I then went to work at a community college bookstore for six years, a book wholesaler for two and the next 25 years as the trade book and then textbook buyer at a university. I always wanted to open my own store but that is really impossible with the net and a very large local independent. But I can sell books. I am a third party seller with Amazon, about two million of us sell on Amazon and in the last year we sold over a billion items. I and the other people who sell are as every bit local businessmen and women as you. One does not have to only sell on Amazon, many venues out there, Alibris and Bookfinder to mention a couple. Have you ever sold a used book online? You are right about Indies being late to the dance with E Books. They have been late to the dance with just about every technological innovation since the internet started. Remember, when Jeff Bezos was on his knees packing books in his garage the ABA had about 4,000 stores, millions of dollars in the bank and a world class trade show. Kind of makes you wonder what they could have done. I remember the ABA fumbling attempts to create a web site for independents. All you can do is bash someone who did it right. There is a reason cars replaced horses and you do not take a train to go coast to coast anymore.

    1. Debbie

      I have to agree that the Amazon bashing gets a little old. It’s not that I don’t agree with most of what is said, but I think our time would be better spent bragging about the strengths of independent bookstores rather than talking about how horrible big, bad Amazon is for our industry. My Mama used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice…..”

    2. Salome

      Dear Oliver,

      I take Amtrak every chance I get, including coast-to-coast. Last year, Amtrak ran a train-to-nowhere. Of course, I took it, along with about 800 other people.
      I admit, if you have to be there by a time certain, fly. But if you have more time than money, take the train. As Dr. Seuss might say, “Oh, the people you’ll meet! (Live people, not virtual facebook friends).

  5. Cindy Brewer

    I am the book buyer for a local book fair company and am also trying so very hard to inform people about the importance of keeping local options open and healthy. I worry that by the time my 2 year old granddaughter is doing her own purchasing there may be almost no option other than Amazon. I simply refuse to buy anything from them (and my custom bumper sticker says so!) and worry that they will become the sole controller of what is even available to purchase. Such control is utterly frightening to me.

  6. Desiree

    Josie – I truly love reading your posts. I can feel your passion for reading and for indie stores, and it is so inspirational. I work remotely for a publisher due to being a military spouse, but in my current town there is no indie bookstore, just a very chaotic BAM. If I had the money, I would open my own bookstore and cafe. As that dream is not yet financially viable, I just order online or over the phone from indie bookstores in other cities, but I refuse to shop online at Amazon. There is no love in it, just consumerism. Thank you for the passion.

  7. Donna Paz Kaufman

    Yes, Josie, it really is about Living Local and “indie” becomes a way of life. Many do “get” it and yet many remain unenlightened. And, that’s our collective work. Keep up the good and important work you do.

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