Amazon is eating indie booksellers.
And they’re eating authors’ profits and changing the book market.
If the recent revelations about Amazon’s corporate culture haven’t put you off, just know this: Your community needs its indie bookstores. They provide a vital service, they give art, and weirdness and literature a place to thrive. Neil Gaiman once said that “a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.”
If you want to look at it from a more cynical perspective, there’s this to consider: sales tax.
“In 2014, Amazon sold $44.1 billion worth of retail goods nationwide, all while avoiding $625 million in state and local sales taxes.”
I think local communities probably could have used that money, don’t you? I mean that tax money might have saved some teachers’ jobs, or paved some roads, or kept a school music program funded.
Don’t get me wrong, as an anxious introvert sometimes I need to shop behind the safety of a screen. There are times when I have to work myself up to leave the comfort and safety of home, and I know other people suffer from this too, so it’s nice to know that online shopping is there for us.
I’m also acutely aware that it is not always possible to shop in ways that align with your beliefs. If you need the cheaper books that Amazon provides (like I did in college), do what you have to.
But if you do have enough financial flexibility to guide the direction of your dollar, maybe point it where it will do the most good– to you, to a bookseller, to publishing, and to your community. If you think I’m overstating the importance of indie booksellers, I’d like to direct you to Andrew Laties’ Rebel Bookseller.
“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”
― Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books
I never have an “I don’t know what to read next” moment. I keep a list of books I want to read in Goodreads (which, yes, I know, is owned by Amazon). I regularly skim through my list, request books from the library, read them, and then if I really fall in love with them (and/or want to support the author), I will buy them. If I can’t get them at a brick-and-mortar indie, I will buy them from Powell’s online bookstore. Shipping takes a bit longer than Amazon, but that’s okay.
And I’m aware that my small book purchases are just a drop in the bucket, and mighty Amazon scoffs at this. But I don’t do this to screw Amazon out of my tiny dollars (hell, I have Amazon Prime, for all the non-book things that I buy), I do it to give my tiny dollars to stores that I believe in, where my tiny dollars do go a lot further.
Now Amazon has opened a brick-and-mortar bookstore to continue pushing independent bookstores out of business.
Thankfully, the rumors of the death of independent bookstores, much like rumors of Twain’s death, are greatly exaggerated. According to the 2015 Census, book sales in The United States jumped $280 million, the first reported increase in bookstore sales since 2007. Furthermore, the number of indie bookstores in the United States has increased 27 percent since 2009, according to The American Booksellers Association.
People still want a meaningful, tactile connection, an experience that they’re not getting online. As John Francisconi of Bank Sqare Books said, “The biggest difference between us and Amazon is we are not trying to build an empire; we’re trying to build a community.”
Celebrate indie bookstore day on April 30th!