Emily Russo Murtagh
Actually, I’d say it costs more
July 17, 2009 by Katherine
Every so often there’s something we hear at the bookstore. Someone asks whether we have a book, we track it down, they obviously want the book. Then there’s a whispered comment from a friend, “That book costs less at (you fill in the blank with another retailer)”. The book is put back on the shelf. I’ve heard it a couple times the past few weeks, so I’d just like to give my reasons why I disagree with that statement.
There are a lot of reasons to shop local instead of going to a chain store, a big box store or ordering online. The first, and most important, reason is very basic. You are in my bookstore for a reason. We provide a service… whether it’s advice, book recommendations, help searching, the ability to touch and flip through the book before making your choice, the atmosphere, the events, a place to take the kids on a rainy day, or just that we act as the town watercooler. Is that service worth the extra few bucks? Think of it like the tip at a restaurant. Sure, it’d be cheaper to go to a take-out place, or even cheaper yet to cook yourself, but you make the choice that the convenience, the atmosphere and the expertise are worth it.
Second… follow the money. Of every $100 you spend here, $68 stays in your community. For a big box store, $43 stays in the community, shopping online changes that to a big fat zero. (There’s lots of great info on shopping local at indiebound.org)
What exactly does that mean? Because you’re shopping at my store, I get a paycheck. What do I do with that paycheck? This week, I ate at the Art Cliff, I shopped at the Down Island Farmer’s Market, I bought toothpaste at Leslie’s and bought a present at LeRoux. And hopefully, the waitress I tipped, the farmer I bought chicken eggs from, the people working at Leslie’s and LeRoux will then use some of that money to buy a book at my store. The same goes for every one of our employees, as well as our owner.
We pay taxes in your town… our building and our business and our owner. More money that stays in the community, through schools, public works, etc. The sales tax you pay through us goes to your state.
Our business, our owner and our employees contribute to your local charities. Every year, the Red Stocking fund, the schools, Habitat for Humanity, Island Affordable Housing, the list is long. Some of the national chains do contribute to charities, but they are not local ones, some do not contribute to charities at all.
I know that a lot of people here have the impression that we make a whole lot of money at the BoG, but the fact is bookselling is a rough business. The luckiest of us only make about a 2% prophet. We would love to promise that we will be here on Main St forever, but in order to do that, we need people to continue to support us in the amazing way they always have.
That’s the obvious stuff; now here’s a couple things you may not have considered:
Discount stores and big box stores may be changing the future of the book. This is a really interesting article on the ways that big box stores lower the price of merchandise so drastically that they sell it at a loss in order to drive competition out of business. Once the competition is gone, they then shrink their commitment to that inventory to make way for higher margin goods. What it comes down to: The future of the book depends on their bottom line, whereas our bottom line depends on the future of the book.
And speaking of the future of the book… we all know that e-books are here and not going away. I think that devices like the Kindle are amazing. If I were still commuting on the subway every day or traveling lots for my job, I’d want one tomorrow. But there are a few disturbing things on the horizon… turns out, when you buy a book on the Kindle, you don’t really own it, you’re leasing it, as they proved this week. And if you didn’t hear, Amazon has applied for a patent that allows them to put advertisements in ebooks and print on demand titles.
Which leads me to another thing… Amazon has made it pretty clear that in their perfect world they would get rid of the middlemen completely… go all print-on-demand… why have publishers and booksellers when technology means you don’t need them? You know why? Because, yes, there are many talented authors out there, but their editors make their books better; the book designers make them more attractive, easier to read, you name it; there are people who spend countless hours choosing fonts, illustrators, paper weight, editing, proofreading… and all those things MAKE BOOKS BETTER. If we remove them, what will we have lost? If we remove the marketing department, the sales reps, the booksellers, how will you get the right book in your hands? Sure, this industry could stand a lot of trimming in certain places, and it needs to change the way it does business, but in the end, this is one industry where the middle men are good things.
And now let’s consider the environment:
No we don’t produce our books here on island, so there are transportation costs, but it is much more efficient. And I will add that in the publishing industry, stores are allowed to return unsold merchandise… and so it is shipped a second time, then possibly destroyed. The return rate at the big box stores is a whopping 40%, whereas independent bookstores average about 10% returns.
Times are tough. I get it. And to be honest, I’d rather a book were sold somewhere else than not at all if the price really does make the difference between a book being sold or not. But please, next time you set down a book, you should say, “it’s CHEAPER somewhere else”. Because I would argue that, in the end, it actually COSTS more.