A week or so ago I was reading this article on Book Riot about the author's struggle to pay full price for books. The article is called "The Financial Pain of Supporting Independent Bookstores," so right off the bat we know his position. He lives in New York City where there is no shortage of independent bookstores including some of the best in the country. And he lives in Brooklyn, the borough where a great many of them are located. And yet. And yet he feels compelled to shop on Amazon. I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Book Riot makes money through Amazon advertising, a fact which he neglects to mention. The sad truth is, he just doesn't want to pay full price for books. And a lot of people, judging by the comments and my own experience talking to readers, including many who pass through the bookstores where I have worked over the years, feel the same way.
A wealthy woman I know once told me she "can't justify" paying full retail for books so she shops Amazon. And somehow people don't believe me when I say Amazon teaches people to devalue books, teaches them that books aren't worth paying for. But this is what I hear over and over. People will pay $5 or more for a single greeting card but full price for books? Not worth it.
A bookstore closed in my old neighborhood of Cambridge, Mass., about two years ago. This was a popular store selling used books which despite a fairly loyal customer base had some business practices that limited its cash flow and while it held on for a long time, eventually it folded. When it did, it took with it a fair bit of foot traffic that other stores on its street benefited from. And on my last visit home one of those stores was closing- because, the owner said, the bookstore's closing had diminished neighborhood custom so much.
Thanks, Amazon, and thanks Amazon shoppers. This is what you buy with your bargains. Less taxes for cities and towns, fewer jobs, and more shuttered storefronts.
And then I was talking with a high school friend who recently published a book- a debut author, just the sort of person positioned to benefit from exactly the kind of attention and curation and support independent bookstores can give. And he reads on a Kindle, and shops on Amazon, and sees no problem at all with any of that. Except that if he and people like him keep it up, there won't be any independent bookstores to host his events, talk up his book to readers and help get him on the map. His book will be just another page on a website.
A bookstore customer once asked me what he "gets" by shopping at the store versus Amazon. You get bookstores. You get that neighborhood store that's just "so cute". You get jobs for your neighbors. You get tax income that helps pay for the services you expect and use every day. That cute store doesn't hang in there by magic. It's cold hard cash that keeps it open and nothing else. You get bookstores and all the bricks and mortar businesses that make up your downtowns, that make your neighborhood and town appealing. You get people wanting to come live in and visit your city.
What do you get from Amazon?