Do you shop indie? I hope you do.
Independent bookstores are a vanishing breed and you, my fair readers, are key to their survival. My local indie, Fountain Bookstore, has a good selection, knowledgeable staff, and awesome events. If it weren't for this little independent operation I don't know if
Richmond would see many book launches or
signings. But I'm an amateur when it comes to the indie bookstore biz, so I'm
going to let a pro take over from here. My friend Anna from Left Bank Books is
here to tell you about the challenges indies face today and the benefits of stepping outside the big box
world so many of us have gotten used to.
Take it away Anna...
So. You love books. You love reading. You can’t wait to get your hands on the next book by your favorite author. You even frequent blogs ABOUT books! Now, here are the important questions:
If you answered “Yes!” to these questions, then I can’t tell you how much you are appreciated in the independent book world. If you answered “No” then we need to talk.
- Are you a conscientious consumer?
- Do you care where you buy your books?
- Ever think about the places you’re getting your books from?
I’m the manager at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri, the largest full-line independent bookstore left in St. Louis, and it’s been around since 1969 – 40 years! That’s something to be proud of in this day and age, when so many independents are being forced to close their doors. The battles that indie bookstores are fighting are relentless, and in the current economic climate, more serious than ever. We struggle to survive amongst the monstrous corporate chains and the ultimate antagonist of our story – Amazon.
The economy is terrible right now and we’re all suffering the ill effects, no doubt. But here’s some insight into the book-buying world: Corporate chain bookstores get books in SUCH great quantity that the discount they receive from publishers is HUGE. This is the same for Amazon. Essentially, larger quantity orders get greater discounts, which means they can afford to give you, the consumer, a greater discount on the retail price, while still making a profit.
Now, let’s look at the indie bookstore. Your neighborhood indie bookstore doesn’t have a warehouse to stock – in fact, they hardly have room for more books that can fit on their shelves! What that means, is that they aren’t going to order hundreds of copies of a book, and as a result, are going to get a LOWER discount on their order from publishers – meaning a discount to you of anything like 30 or 40% off equals money lost and NEVER making a profit. And THAT equals out of business really fast.
So I realize you maybe could care less – you just want a book and need it to cost as little as possible. I hear you, and totally empathize, I really do. But being an independent bookstore is about supporting our community, getting to know and interact with our customers, and putting money back into our neighborhoods. It’s about NOT being run by a corporation with headquarters across the country, following display models from suits who’ve never been in our store. It’s about retaining a sense of individuality and an atmosphere unique to us. We make our own displays, we make our own requests for author visits and signings from various publishers, and we sincerely appreciate every single person who appreciates us enough to come in and browse or buy at least one book a month.
Big chains care about their customers like credit card companies care about their paying cardholders, and that’s the simple truth.
Somehow, the term “online” has become synonymous for Amazon.com. I don’t know when that happened, but it’s incredibly disturbing! When we’re out of a book a customer is looking for, we offer to order it in for them and give them a call when it arrives, and often, I hear, “No, that’s alright, I’ll just look ‘online’.” And that ‘online’ means Amazon. It’s frustrating because we are doing the same thing they are; only they are eating independent businesses of all kinds while they do it. Many indies have an online presence, also. My indie has a website, left-bank.com, where you can see photos of our booksellers, read their answers to silly questions, see what they like to read; see our calendar of author events for the coming months; AND you can buy books online through us! We can even ship the book to you – GASP!
So please pretty please think about who you’re supporting and where your precious few extra bucks are going when you buy your next book. Even if you don’t shun all chains, awareness is an important first step. Check out indiebound.org and you can find local independent bookstores in your area.
It would be such a sad world without the community bookstore. Think about it – a world of corporate-run businesses would be like living in a cookie-cutter suburbia where everything is the same and without individuality and character. So please, search out the indies in your towns and make an effort to give them your patronage, because they truly truly appreciate every person who walks in their doors – I can tell you that from experience as a bookseller and as a buyer of books.
Be sure to visit indiebound.org and find your local store.