I read with great interest a Seattle Times article on Sunday about Amazon. The article, “Amazon a Virtual No-Show in hometown philanthropy” (read article here), was posted by a friend on her Facebook page. To summarize: Amazon, a Seattle-based, massive corporation, gives practically nothing to Seattle-based not-for-profits.
While Jeff Bezos rightly claims that part of what Amazon does well is run a good for-profit business, which employs many people, there is no sense of urgency in sharing some its massive coffers with the less fortunate in Seattle. Bezos was quoted in the article about how he can best help the underprivileged by saying “Amazon’s e-book reader, the Kindle, might be seen as a low-cost, efficient way to distribute books worldwide to the underserved.” I couldn’t help but be struck by the inherent ill-logic of that statement. I might be naive, but I can’t help but wonder how many of the underserved book reading world have access to stable internet connections to download their books, oh yeah, and how are they going to pay for new books? I’m hoping at least the Kindles will pre-loaded with titles. But then there’s the pesky issue of electricity. Really, I could go on.
The overriding thing that struck me about this article is here is a company that brought in over 45 billion dollars (yes, that’s billion with a B last year) and has given next to nothing in its home base where it employs more than 9,000 people.
Every independent bookstore I know gives copiously not just to its community, but to many others. When Tropical Storm Irene devastated the southern part of Vermont we had several author events that were fundraisers for the Irene Fund, essentially ensuring that we made little or no money on those events. But we wanted to do more. Currently, we’re selling a book about Irene and the entire list price of that book goes to help rebuild homes destroyed in the flooding. Matt Bushlow of Vermont’s Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) explains: “When the River Rose: Stories of a Vermont Town’s Flood, Recovery, and Rebirth, is a benefit for ReBuild Watebury, a nonprofit whose mission is to help residents in the Watebury area rebuild homes that were damaged or destroyed after the floods. 100% of the funds go to ReBuild Waterbury. No money at all goes to CLiF [or to The Flying Pig]. We created this project as a way to give back to our hometown. We coordinated the team that produced the book, and we have acted as its publisher. National Life Insurance Group donated most of the printing costs.”
This truly is a local effort bringing many organizations together to help benefit our neighbors.
In 2012 alone we have donated over $1,500 in books and gift certificates to more than 30 organizations ranging from the Boy and Girl Scouts to literacy organizations, the orchestra, the arts groups, the local women’s shelter, all the local libraries and just about any local class that’s raising money for its own charitable giving, etc. And we are not unique. All indies I know do this, and more in their towns. We do this not to curry favor with any one group (although having a Girl Scout come right to the store with a cookie order form is a lovely perk), but to support the people and causes we know.
Charitable giving is important, especially with the economy as shaky as it is. One of the reasons we will almost always give something to children who ask for a donation is so they learn at an early age that helping is what you do. Often the kids will come to us and ask for a gift card to go in a basket that they’re raffling off to raise money for a cause their class is supporting. So, we are helping them to help others and that’s a great thing. I can hear the skeptics out there saying, “But they’ll probably spend more than the amount of the gift certificate or that gift certificate won’t get redeemed.” To which I say, I can do nothing about that. That doesn’t change the fact that we’ve given x amount of money in books away. And as discussed last week (see our blog about gift certificates), 94% of our gift cards get redeemed, so we are giving away the products as intended.
We also participate in our communities by giving our time. We regularly do things with the schools. This Thursday Elizabeth will be reading picture books to the second graders during Racism Awareness week at the local school. Last week she read to the littlest kids at the Children’s Center pre-school because they asked if she would.
All indies host free-to-the-public author events that provide cultural enrichment to attendees. There is nothing more exciting for me as a bookseller than seeing the look on kids’ faces when they meet one of their favorite authors. Some kids start shaking, sometimes there are happy tears and always there is appreciation and thanks for our having brought this author to our town.
Again, the Flying Pig is not unique in this, I cannot say this enough: every independent bookstore does this. We support the people in our towns. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t expect kudos for it, although thanks are always nice. We do it because we live where we work and we have relationships with the people and organizations that enrich our town.
So, the next time you’re looking a sponsor for your Little League team or for someone to take an ad in the community theatre program, remember who you ask, who happily says yes, and remember to shop there.