Another Reason Local Is Better

Josie Leavitt -- April 2nd, 2012

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.

12 thoughts on “Another Reason Local Is Better

  1. Jennifer Malone

    Your post struck such a chord with me!! I started a business a few years ago, selling handmade accessories to about 150 boutiques. It’s a small business for sure, but the one thing I will never compromise on is giving 10% of sales (not profits!) to charity. My part-time work facilitating workshops to students on becoming good global citizens inspired me to finally take my writing to the next level and complete a middle grade novel about a girl who finally finds her voice in her quest to change the world. Of course, story comes first, but I think the magic of books is the opportunity to show not tell kids how to become the kind of adults who channel Warren Buffet far more than Jeff Bezos! I’m just finishing another round of revisions before querying agents, but when the magic day comes that I hold my published book in my hand, I’ll cross my fingers it makes it onto the shelves of a store as special as yours!

  2. Peter L

    I’m with Elizabeth 100%. Having spent a lot of time visiting indie bookstores across the country, I can vouch for the valuable service they ALWAYS provide to the communities they serve. Parsing it by percentage of revenue makes no sense. These stores are operating on tiny profit margins if any and constantly sacrificing. They have nothing like the scale Amazon enjoys. Big corporations DO give back to the community. As do wealthy individuals (ask any Omaha school parent about Warren Buffett’s contributions). I scratch my head to the statement “I find it funny how you and others are looking at a company’s revenues (it’s actually 48 billion in 2011 if you read their income statement) and whine about how little they give.” Huh? I’d find it funny if they didn’t. Throwing light on Amazon’s practices is valid. Period. My hat is off to indie booksellers. Good work.

  3. Carol B. Chittenden

    Had to chuckle at the description of Bezos’ largesse in responding to 30 requests a year. In a town of 33,000, we gave to almost 200 different organizations and projects last year. Makes me feel rich!

    On the other hand, we don’t give to any lobbying groups. Maybe Bezos should start counting the millions he spends lobbying to oppose sales tax fairness. Of course he’d need to subtract the hundreds of millions he thus dodges, depriving the public of the shared services for which those taxes would pay.

  4. Aaron

    How much money do you think Amazon should give away? Maybe 5% or 10% of revenues? I find it funny how you and others are looking at a company’s revenues (it’s actually 48 billion in 2011 if you read their income statement) and whine about how little they give. If your “independent bookstore” made contributions based on revenue like you expect Amazon to do, you’d have given away a lot more than $1500 and you’d probably be bankrupt because you gave away money before paying for your expenses (or you have such a high markup that Amazon will eventually eat you alive).

    1. Desiree Bussiere

      Elizabeth is right Aaron. As an independent publisher it is really hard for us to stay alive with Amazon forcing new discounts down our throats. Amazon is creating a monopoly, which is terrible for the economy…it’s pushing indie bookstores and indie publishers out of business, causing more jobs to be lost. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2017889877_amazonpublisher02.html

      As you will see, philanthropy is not the only reason people should buy local, there are even better reasons to stop buying from amazon. I don’t care if it’s cheap, all of our social media directs people to indiebound.org to support indie bookstores or to B&N.

      1. Paul Acampora

        It’s hard to believe that Amazon is truly a philanthropic zero. I hope that they’re just really discreet and/or focused on quirky passions. Maybe Jeff Bezos walks around Seattle during the holidays offering free online storage to homeless people and dropping Kindles into old grunge busker guitar cases. But seriously, corporate philanthropy should be an aspect of each organization’s personality. I am not surprised that The Flying Pig is off the chart amazing in giving back to the community (which is one of the many reasons I think you need to open a branch in Pennsylvania). Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos has indicated publicly that he does not believe philanthropy is a good use of the company’s resources. I think that’s wrong, but he’s a smart guy and it is his money. If this is truly one of their corporate tenets, then they are within their rights to donate zero. I am within my rights to shop at a place that more accurately reflects my values. Like many, I confess, that I do not always exercise those rights (I do love my zappos shoes). That’s why a more bothersome issue for me is the lack of sales tax collected on most Amazon purchases. Besides giving Amazon an unfair business advantage, those tax dollars belong to our libraries, schools, police stations and parks. Despite opinions to the contrary, taxes are still required for the purpose of building and running healthy communities. We get the country and the community that we are willing to pay for. I do not understand why so many educated, able and wealthy leaders believe our communities are worth so little.

        1. Ellen Mager

          Paul, Whereas Flying Pig does a great job of giving back to their community, you should know, if you read your newsletters, that local Pennsylvania bookstores work very hard to do the same. This past summer Booktenders’ Secret Garden sponsored Elin Hildebrand for a fundraiser to support the scholarship Program through the CBCC Women in Business Prgram for Women who need to go back to school to be retrained due to tramatic changes in their lives and donated $850.00 to the program. We had Brian Selznick to introduced Wonderstruck at a fundraiser we had for the Mercer Museum for future chidren’s events and were able to take our $800.00 to add to some matching funds and make it $1,100. We just had a fundraiser for the local food pantry and donated $255, to name just a few and I know that other children’s bookstore like Children’s Book World do their own support of their surrounding community. It’s something that independents take pride in – giving back to the community where they and their customers, work and live and you will find this done, freely, but with pride,
          all across the country.

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